Over the years, experience has been one of the best teachers for Rock Bridge boys tennis.
The team comprised of six seniors has been through countless matches, sets and points. The Bruins know what they’re made of, through and through.
That’s why the back end of a season isn’t anything new to them.
“We’ve all been through stuff like this before,” said senior William McAllister. “Even if we have a tough loss or whatever, we’ve all been through that.”
What is new for the seniors is the finality of it all. The 2022 season will be the last for the six Bruins who have seen and endured more than most athletes.
McAllister, Akhilan Elangovan, Max Litton, Ben Loeb, Ben Xu and Logan Burnam have played their way through a pandemic and a fourth-place finish at state in 2021.
Now, as the season turns toward the postseason in 2022 with Tuesday’s semifinals of the Class 3 District 4 Tournament, host Rock Bridge will focus on what makes the 14-4 Bruins different from the rest of the teams they could see across the state.
“It’s the camaraderie,” Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb said. “All six of these guys just have great camaraderie together and enjoy being with each other.”
That camaraderie stems from being in the same class. In years prior, Rock Bridge’s teams consisted of players in different classes and at different levels of experience.
This team is comprised of all seniors. While it might not all be the exact same, each of the six has seen a similar number of matches, games and points.
“With how well we all know each other, it definitely balances out probably even better than the last two years,” Litton said. “Everyone knows this is the last high school ride.”
The players know each other so well that they’ve discerned the different personalities each brings.
McAllister prides himself on being calm and collected. Litton is a competitor. Their teammates know those serious natures can bring out the best in competitions.
However, Elangovan has a light-hearted personality that reins in some of that seriousness. He likes to remind the team to enjoy the journey.
Xu and Burnam are more quiet competitors, but Burnam likes to be more light-hearted as Xu tends to be more serious.
Loeb, the player and son of the head coach, describes himself as the team’s personal cheerleader. He’s someone who will always cheer the most and the loudest.
These different personalities help make the season come together differently. It’s not the same routine when each senior brings a different perspective.
“In the middle, it can get really repetitive,” Xu said. “The fact that everyone’s so different but we still all really enjoy each other’s presence, that keeps the season fun all the time.”
That has helped the team earn big wins over MICDS and Helias. It’s also propelled the Bruins through the back end of their schedule. They haven’t lost since April 12.
The team attributes its success to the camaraderie at work.
“Not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, we know each other very well,” Elangovan said. “That helps provide some synergy on the court.”
Perhaps the best example of that synergy is how the team can switch up its doubles pairings when it wants to. Switching up partners is a tactic based on strategy and creating flexibility. It’s something Rock Bridge can do to great effect with its seniors.
They each understand each other’s playing styles. While the team can’t make unlimited pairings, the Bruins have variety that gives Rock Bridge an advantage.
“The variety is good,” Burnam said. “It allows us to play with a lot of different play types and experience.”
Rock Bridge tennis has a hallowed history of success. In the previous decade, the Bruins claimed seven state titles from 2010 to 2019. That same time frame also yielded two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish.
What this Bruins team can claim that not many other recent Rock Bridge teams can is a senior class relying on its experience as it closes out an era of players who didn’t let COVID-19 stop them from reaching this point in their careers together.
It’s the camaraderie that gives this team its special makeup.
That makeup is what the team believes can take it far come districts and beyond.
“Last year, we had a really good season,” the younger Loeb said. “We have even better players this season to help do even better.”
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at CKwiecinsk@gannett.com or 573-815-1857.