COLUMBIA — A banner hung on the fence of the Bethel Park tennis courts during Saturday’s North Central Missouri Invitational, commemorating the careers of Rock Bridge’s three graduating seniors. Created by the team’s underclassmen, the banner was decorated with a montage of photographs and compliments. One read, “You guys are the best seniors ever!”
When seniors Elizabeth Worsowicz, Allison Wulff and Whitley Zitsch entered the Rock Bridge tennis program, the Bruins boasted a string of five consecutive state final four appearances. They say they have a good chance at graduating with the streak alive at nine and maybe something more.
“If any year (to win state), this would be year,” Wulff said.
Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb says he sees their departure in a different way.
“Whether we continue the streak or not,” Loeb said, “it might be an end of an era from the standpoint of we got three seniors at the top of the lineup who have known each other a long time and have been through a lot together.”
Worsowicz starts at No. 1 singles, Zitsch at No.2 and Wulff at No. 3, with Worsowicz and Zitsch making up the No. 1 doubles team. Wulff and junior Lauren Kane comprise the No. 2 doubles team. The three consecutive team final four appearances the three played in extended the streak to eight, a public school state record. In state doubles competition last season, Worsowicz and Zitsch were third, while Wulff and Alex Litofsky, a 2006 graduate, were fifth. Their efforts helped the Bruins finish third.
“You get three years at the top of the lineup,” Loeb said. “They’ve been to other final fours and been successful. It won’t necessarily be an end of an era, but it might be.”
The girls’ graduation, along with the surge in talent from other high schools, has made Loeb concerned about the Bruins continuing their state final four streak.
“I know Kickapoo (High School) is coming in with quite a team next year,” Loeb said. “They got some freshmen coming in next year and some top girls back. People tell us that this will be the end of the road for us with what Kickapoo has coming. I’ll never count our girls out, but on the court, it may be the end of our streak.”
Their current positions on the team are a stark contrast from were they began. As freshmen, the three played junior varsity and saw little time on the main courts. Loeb recalls Zitsch and Worsowicz always playing on court eight as freshmen. “To see Elizabeth and Whitley always playing on court eight, and now living on courts one and two is symbolic of their growth as people and as tennis players,” Loeb said.
Not all of them thought they would be where they are now. In fact, with the modest beginning to their high school careers, some deemed potential success unlikely at the time.
“I didn’t foresee this at all,” Zitsch said. “We were like the bottom on the team, the bottom of the JV.”
The only three seniors on the team, the girls see a need to be leaders and do their part to display that seniority. Each day before practice, Worsowicz, Zitsch and Wulff bring out the ball hoppers and tennis balls to prepare for their daily workout. In the drills at the beginning of practice, Wulff says the seniors like to show the underclassmen how to warm up correctly. Each girl, though, has a different style of leadership.
“Elizabeth leads more by example,” Loeb said. “With the other two, they know that there can be a balance between fun and hard work. With all three of them, though, if the others watch them closely, they can see on gameday that they like to compete, and that’s important.”
Their success on the team has brought with it an additional off court benefit: friendship.
“We’re really good friends, even outside of tennis,” Zitsch said. “Me and Elizabeth hang out and go to the movies sometimes. We’re in the same class, Allison too. We go to lunch together as well.”
All three girls plan to take their talent to the next level and play tennis in college, but none have decided where they will attend. Wulff is looking at Northwest Missouri State, Worsowicz has looked at “a bunch of schools all over the U.S.,” but has yet to focus on any one, and Zitsch is as well unsure of her potential college destination.
Wherever they end up, their time at Rock Bridge will not be forgotten, especially by their coach.
“I think all three of them are good kids, and I’ve really enjoyed having them all on the team, individually and collectively,” Loeb said. “It’s been fun having them, I hope they finish strong and they have even more memories to remember from their experience on the tennis team at Rock Bridge.”