Senior Marc Leible, who recently qualified for his third state tournament appearance by winning the Class 1, District 1 singles championship, now finds himself included on the list of notable Sikeston tennis players. And according to his coach, he's near the top.
"I've been fortunate enough to have several good players," said Sikeston Bulldog head tennis coach Brian James. "He certainly deserves to be mentioned among the top couple, I would say."
Such tremendous praise and success is the culmination of Leible's many years of play. Tennis has been a big part of his life for a long time, and he contributes his involvement in the sport to a special group of people close to him.
"It runs in the family," Leible said. "My dad got me started."
Leible has also had the good fortune of playing with many other good players at Sikeston who have helped shape his game throughout the years. However, he isn't able to narrow down his on-the-court influences to a specific person or group of people.
"I could name names, but they're too numerous to mention," said Leible.
Despite his achievements in the seasons past, this year seemed to mark the peak of his potential.
His stellar 22-2 record in singles competition and his first district championship both resulted from a combination of natural ability and determined improvement.
"He grew up playing the game, and he really put in the time this year to improve his game," said coach James. "From year to year he's improved, and I think from his junior year to now he's improved the most. He's really become a top-notch player."
Leible, who has a career regular-season record of 60-6, also acknowledges the improvement in his game from last year. He attributes a more fine-tuned style to practicing with a group of older tennis enthusiasts on Wednesday nights.
"Everything has gotten better due to my long hours playing with the men in the tennis club," said Leible.
"They've really helped me improve all-around."
There weren't many obstacles blocking Marc's quest to winning district this season.
It seemed that, for the most part, his biggest enemy was himself. In fact, he claimed that there was one internal problem in particular that could plague him on the court.
"My temper," confessed Leible. "I don't have a bad temper, but I can't play when I'm mad."
Although his temper doesn't seem to pollute his game enough to be considered a serious downfall, he will have to be sure to keep his head cool when squaring off against some of the best talent around at the state tournament.
While Marc is a gifted and accomplished tennis player, he will be competing against a group of athletes who can claim to be of equal ability.
"Four of the top six placers from last year do return, so it's going to be some pretty stiff competition up there," said James. "But, by winning the district, he is guaranteed to play the runner-up from another district, so I think that'll be a plus for him this year. I think he's really improved, so I look for him to make a pretty good showing up there."
Leible has been in this position before, so the pressure of performing in such a high-stakes environment shouldn't be a huge hindrance to his simple, yet crucial gameplan.
"I have to play good, make no mistakes, and be as consistent as possible," Leible said. "The key is consistency."
Win or lose, the state tournament figures to be the last tennis endeavor of Leible's high school career. And without the opportunity to continue tennis at the next level when he attends the University of Missouri in the fall, this could be his last major event in the sport, a fact that may lead to the kind of do-or-
die play that could drive him to perform above even his own expectations.
Either way, there's no question that those who have played with, coached or watched Leible over the course of his high school years will miss him and what he brought to the game.
"Losing him is tough. It's tough to replace a player like that," said James. "He's just a good player in general and a good kid. He's got a lot of respect around the area. He'll be fine, and he'll excel in college."