Park Hill boys’ tennis coach Rustin Reese was training for the 2022 State Championships when he noticed a master in his trade.
His player missed a backhand kick out of speed. Across the road, Reese noticed his counterpart Ben Loeb, longtime Rock Bridge coach, writing something.
After several matches, Reese’s player made a similar mistake. Loeb pointed to the Bruins player and provided an emphatic grip pump.
“Yes,” remembers Reese. “I am practicing.”
Reese knows coaching style well.
He played under Loeb, the winning high school tennis coach in state history, in the early 2000s at the start of the Loeb dynasty at Rock Bridge.
This spring was the final season of his illustrious career in boys’ tennis. Loeb said Loeb retired from the Rock Bridge Boys program after 27 seasons, 19 consecutive Final Four games from 2002 to 2021 and eight state championships.
Loeb’s decision comes with mixed feelings. It’s not easy for him to walk away from a sport he loves and has built a solid foundation in. But it’s a decision he doesn’t hold back, as his plans include spending winters and springs in Arizona with his wife now that a son, Ben is graduating from Rock Bridge.
He said that during his more than three-decade coaching career in boys’ tennis, Loeb prioritized being a leader as opposed to a dictator.
“I’m not a reliable coach,” Loeb said. “There are times when I feel like the coach has to be like that, but I prefer a collaborative approach, but I am the leader. So in the end, I need to make the final decision and I need you to go with it.”
Loeb’s tennis coaching career began at Hickman in the spring of 1989 when he was offered an opportunity. Ray Odor was staying away from tennis coaching for health reasons at Hickman, and the Kewpies needed a temporary coach.
A temporary solution has become a permanent solution. Loeb coached at Hickman until 1994, helping to win the Kewpies’ only state title in 1994 and the boys’ first of nine titles.
more:‘It’s a Thing We Are’: Rock Tennis Coach Ben Loeb Breaks Double Record in Missouri
His start in high school coaching wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Loeb was coming from coaching women’s tennis at the University of Missouri and was deciding if he should stay at the college level.
Loeb took a teaching job at Rock Bridge in the spring of 1988 where he taught a business education course and awaited the opening of a tennis coach.
“I had to decide early on whether I wanted to stick around and look for something at the college level or take this and try to make something out of it at the high school level,” Loeb said. “There was no (open) tennis coaching job to fit in at either school, Rockbridge, or Hickman.”
That year, Loeb did not have time to train tennis even if he wanted to.
“Sometimes I’m the only one in school and I have to rearm the system before leaving,” Loeb said. “It was kind of a weird feeling. It’s so quiet in there, it’s night and all, but I’ve had a lot of work to do to get ready for lessons next week.”
However, the spring of 1989 was when the major stepped down. Loeb took his chance.
This was just the beginning of a coaching career guided by tips and wise words from coaches of all types of sports and levels of competition.
From former Missouri State football coach Gary Pinkel to the former athletics directors that Loeb has reported on and the advertisements he makes to date, Loeb’s philosophy is one that has evolved with time rather than trying to force time into his principles, he said.
One of his most memorable lessons came from Colorado soccer coach Bill McCartney.
McCartney detailed how there are three aspects to being a coach. There are players who will appreciate what you do for them. There are also players who appreciate it in a few years after they leave the team.
“It’s the last part,” Loeb said. “Some people will never know or will never appreciate what you are trying to do for them. As the coach, you have to learn to be OK with it. And that shows real inner strength.”
This inner strength is guided by some of the toughest challenges.
Perhaps Loeb’s most influential moment in his life came in 2005 when his tenure at Rock Bridge began to take off. Loeb’s father was in his final days battling leukemia while Rockbridge was playing for the state title.
Of the 20 Final Four games under Loeb, the Bruins finished fourth in 2005. The Life Final overshadowed any sports season finale at that moment for him. Loeb told his father about the end of the term, and his father recognized him. At that moment, she told Loeb that his father was proud of him and his accomplishments.
His father died the next day.
It was then that Loeb began to understand that it was not about wins and losses or title glory. The coaching was about enriching the lives of others with a journey that creates memories that will last for decades.
previously:How Seniors in Rockbridge Tennis Are Prepared for One Final
His former players got to live that experience.
“The impact he has had on his players far outweighs any amount of victories,” said former player Kamran Farid. “I’m grateful to be a part of those accomplishments, and I’m even more grateful for the team experience he gave us all.”
“The coach has been fantastic running camps and clinics from a young age to get my brother and I involved in the tennis community, who was involved in tennis in high school,” said current player Achille Elangovan. “I got to know a lot of people through him.”
“He taught me to believe that there is always a way to win,” Reese said. “To play for the love of competition. He was working on our mental game and giving us little quotes on scraps of paper. I still have one.”
That’s what made Loeb’s career special and will continue to make his career special as he still plans to coach the Rockbridge Girls in the fall. Loeb has 10 official titles in the Bruins’ Girls Training. From fall 2015 to spring 2019, the Rockbridge boys and girls combined to win the state record for eight consecutive state championships.
Retiring from boys’ tennis wasn’t a light-hearted decision Loeb made.
But it’s one that resonates across the state.
Due to the success that Loeb created and the foundation he planted in mid-Missouri, he took on the best that Kansas City and St. Louis had to offer in a way that would be hard to replicate at such a high level in high school tennis.
“The success that we’ve had over such a long period of time, for a public school in Central Missouri in Class 3 tennis, I don’t think you will see it again anywhere in Missouri with a public school,” Loeb said. . “I think it’s a real tribute to the players on the team who have made this a priority and invested in the journeys we’ve taken together.”
Chris Koizinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, and he oversees sports coverage for the University of Missouri and Boone County. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at [email protected] or 573-815-1857.