Ben Loeb must be brewing his own version of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” from the movie “Space Jam.”
Whatever Loeb has been doing with his tennis program at Rock Bridge, it’s working. The coach for both the boys and girls teams is now an 18-time state championship winner with the Bruins, after his boys team swept both St. Louis University High and Joplin in the Class 2 state tournament Thursday.
This is the boys’ fourth-straight title and the school’s eighth-straight overall.
“We had to step up and play today, and I knew we were the favorite coming into it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win,” Loeb said. “You’ve got to go about it the right way, and credit to our group that we did.”
The class of the Missouri high school tennis world, Loeb’s squads have continued to pump out high-level tennis players since he first took the job in 1994. The program has proven itself even more in recent years, culminating in four-straight school years with nothing but state championships.
Think of the Bruins in the sense of Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990s; the path to a state title in tennis goes through Rock Bridge, and for the past four years, no team besides the Bruins has tasted victory.
The Bruins began the championship round in stellar fashion, taking all three doubles matches over SLUH. Luke Bouchard and Kavin Anand won 8-0 at No. 3 doubles to start it off, and Jake Fraunfelder and Zach Grueber followed up with an 8-2 win at No. 1 doubles. Kam Farid and Max Litton played the closest match of the day at No. 2 doubles, but they still came out with an 8-4 win.
Grueber started off Rock Bridge’s singles scoring against the Junior Billikens at No. 2 with a 6-0, 6-0 shutout to put the Bruins up 4-0. Less than 10 minutes later, Anand finished off a 6-0, 6-0 shutout of his own at No. 6 to seal another title.
With the win, Anand, Fraunfelder, Grueber, Bouchard and Farid all leave Rock Bridge as four-time state champions.
“I’m so happy for them,” Loeb said. “They’re great kids and we’ve gone on four great journeys together. (...) When you have what’s been a dynasty graduate, I’m sure it’s a relief to some of the other contenders out there, and it’ll put us in a position that’ll be difficult to have this type of success (again).”
Earlier in the day, the Bruins got wins from the doubles teams of Fraunfelder/Grueber (8-3), Farid/Litton (8-1) and Anand/Bouchard (8-0) in the semifinal match against Joplin. Wins by Anand (6-0, 6-0) and Bouchard (6-1, 6-0) in singles matches completed the sweep.
Rock Bridge has now won a total of eight state boys tennis titles under Loeb.
Looking ahead, all six Bruins qualified for the Class 2 individual state tournament that starts Friday. The teams of Farid/Litton and Bouchard/Anand will compete in the doubles tournament, and Fraunfelder and Grueber will play in the singles bracket.
“We’ve got some tough competition ahead of us (Friday),” Loeb said. “We will certainly regroup and come at it, and I hope we come at it with the type of competitive energy and commitment (Friday) that we had today.”
The individual state tournament will begin Friday at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.