Rock Bridge head tennis coach Ben Loeb knew there was extra meaning to Monday's season-opening dual between the Bruins and Liberty-Wentzville.
Loeb and the Rock Bridge boys team were returning to the Cosmo-Bethel Park courts for a dual match for the first time in almost two years after missing out on their 2020 season due to the coronavirus.
The pandemic and subsequent cancellation of spring athletics in Missouri prevented the Bruins from earning a potential fifth straight state championship, a feat Loeb achieved with the girls team from 2014-18.
But the joy of reuniting with his team after a yearlong layoff wasn't the only reason a potential victory over the Eagles would be so momentous.
Loeb was on the cusp of Missouri tennis history with 1,138 career dual wins. One more victory would solidify Loeb as the winningest high school tennis coach in state history, surpassing longtime Kirkwood coach Art Stout.
Rock Bridge athletic director Michael McGinty and Loeb had plenty of time to discuss the significance of the achievement. Loeb tied the record in October as the girls team advanced to the Final Four for the 11th consecutive year.
"I'm very superstitious," McGinty said with a laugh as he traveled court-to-court taking photos during Monday's match.
There were several signs in the trunk of McGinty's vehicle to commemorate the occasion, but he couldn't bring himself to pull them out for the players to sign until after the Bruins swept the doubles matches.
Rock Bridge went on to win 7-2 — its 22nd consecutive dual victory — earning Loeb an achievement over 30 years in the making.
“I’m getting chills just thinking about it because I’ve tried not to think about it,” Loeb said about the milestone. “When I started back with the Hickman boys in the spring of '89, I never dreamed I would be in this situation today.
"I’m really thankful because I’ve had the opportunity to be with so many great kids, and in order to have a milestone like this you’ve got to have enough kids that are willing to invest in, try and grow through their tennis game."
The greatest accomplishments will always be the achievements of his teams, Loeb said. He will always view his first state championship with Hickman in the spring 1994 or the following 18 titles with Rock Bridge above an individual award for career wins.
He considers his record-breaking success as a culmination of his athletes' hard work.
“It's a we thing," Loeb said of the accomplishment. "... We did something special here starting with the Hickman boys and girls and then moving to Rock Bridge in the fall of 1994. ... I feel very fortunate and (have) a great sense of accomplishment that we could do this together."
Loeb, 66, believes he is on the "back-nine" of his coaching career but doesn't have any plans to retire after 32 years of coaching.
He can't help but think about life after coaching — but then the season nears.
This year is especially enticing for Loeb because of the Bruins' lack of experience. Rock Bridge doesn't have any varsity returners from the 2019 state championship team and features only two players who were set to compete on varsity last year: junior Akhilan Elangovan and senior William Forsyth.
The challenge of building this iteration of the Bruins and coaching them to the program's 20th consecutive Final Four appearance drives Loeb forward.
"I still have the same passion and interest in this competitive arena that I had at the beginning," Loeb said. "I can't explain why. Maybe it's just the high of working together as a team and competitive athletics that drives me and hopefully drives people that I coach."
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: 'It's a we thing': Rock Bridge tennis coach Ben Loeb breaks Missouri dual wins record
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