As he leaves, Abrams set to finish strong

Bradley men’s tennis player Justin Abrams is down to his last match.

Not literally, of course. But the senior knows time is running out on his college career, and he wants to make sure that he leaves his mark on the tennis program.

Abrams came to Bradley in the fall 2010 from Eagen High School in Eagen, Minn., where he led his team to a runner-up finish in the state tournament his senior year.

As a Bradley freshman, he won 26 singles matches, breaking the record for single-season wins by a freshman and tying him for second overall in Bradley history.

During his sophomore season, he won 21 more singles matches and helped the team earn the #3 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Now, as a senior, Abrams finds himself on a very young squad.  Of the eight members on the team, four are freshman.  Add in the sudden resignation of former coach Jesse Plote last July, and you have a recipe for trouble.

Along with Abrams, seniors Ashton Kalhorn, Arthur Romanet and Hamish Weerasinghe, haven’t let that happen. In his first year at Bradley coach Tim Gray, likes what he’s seen so far from Abrams and the other seniors and wishes he could see more of it.

“Having four guys like Justin is a bittersweet thing,” Gray said. “I’d like to have them for two, three more years but it’s good to have the senior leadership and guys that have been around the block and know the MVC.”

For their part, Abrams and the other seniors are using their experience to help guide the team through all the changes.

“We try to help as much as we can, even Dan [Rodefeld] and Nico [Rakitin], really talented players, are more talented than me for sure. But I’ve been here all these years,” Abrams said. “As seniors, we still have something to give to make them better as a player and a person.”

Improving as both a player and a person is something Abrams has experienced first hand. Upon his arrival to the Hilltop, he quickly realized some habits had to change.

“In order to be successful as a student athlete, time management is important,” Abrams said. “I mean, you’ve got practice at 6 a.m., then lifting, then class. There are some times where you study for a test Sunday night in the van on the way back.”

The improvements aren’t limited to the court, however. As a player, Justin said he knows he’s grown at Bradley as well.

“I’ve learned how to stay calm and collected during matches.  Also, physically, I’m able to not get tired and not lose my focus,“ he said.

With any transition, it’s important to get the players to buy into the new system.  Coach Gray believes that Abrams and the other seniors have played a key role in getting the freshman to buy into the system.

“Justin and the other guys have done a good job trying to help me establish a new culture within the program,” Gray said. “It was important to get the seniors to buy in as a new coach, and their leadership skills have helped the new guys feel their way around college tennis.”

As Justin’s Bradley career winds down, there are a few goals he would like the team to accomplish before he leaves.  Outside of improving his doubles game, Justin said he wants the team to make a return appearance in the MVC tournament.  But he said he knows the road won’t be easy.

“We have a tough conference,” Abrams said. “Drake was ranked top 18 last year and Wichita State made the NCAA tourney last year, but you never know what can happen.”

Abrams and the men’s tennis team travel to Butler this weekend to face the Bulldogs. They don’t play a home match until early March.  If you need a tennis fix before then, the Bradley women’s tennis team faces Eastern Illinois at the Clubs at River City on February 21.