PEORIA, Ill. - The Braves men's tennis team went into the weekend facing Missouri Conference foes Illinois State and Southern Illinois with more up for grabs than seven points a match. The three schools were all in contention for the third seed in this week's State Farm MVC Men's Tennis Championship.
The Braves took Friday's match against ISU, 5-2, no trivial matter considering the win snapped a 59-match losing streak against their I-74 rivals; a streak dating back to 1971.
A successful road-trip to SIU would have clinched the third seed immediately for the Braves. The hosts failed to oblige and Bradley had to wait until after Sunday's match-up between their last two opponents to find out their conference ranking.
After the dust had settled, the Braves - by virtue of a three-way tiebreaker decided by combined match points - claimed The Valley's third seed and are set to face sixth-seeded Creighton Friday at 1 p.m.
The contest will be a rematch of an April 7 showdown claimed by the Braves, 5-2. After dropping the doubles point, Bradley's singles team bounced-back, winning 5-of-6 matches against their head coach's alma mater.
Coach Jesse Plote, who graduated from Creighton in 2002, returns to the school as the Bluejays play host to the conference championship Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Omaha, Neb.
Plote's squad won 7-of-10 matches to close out the season, and the future looks bright for the young team.
"We don't really care who we beat, we're just trying to play our best tennis. We're performing well; that's what matters," said Plote.
Creighton owns a 9-9 overall record this spring, but the Bluejays did not record a conference win. The Braves hope to continue that trend and advance to a semi-final match against secnd-seed Wichita State Saturday.
Wichita State started the season slow after a loss to #23 Tulsa dropped the team to 3-3. The Shockers responded by sweeping their next two matches and never looked back, finishing the season 15-5. Their lone-conference loss came against top-seeded Drake, which snapped a six-match winning streak, including victories over four conference opponents by a combined match score of 25-3.
Plote has talked all year about his team's potential and is excited to see his squad peaking as the post-season draws near.
"This is the time of the year we want to be playing our best tennis, so it's good to see us get a really good win (against ISU) last weekend," said Plote. "That brings a lot of confidence as we go into the weekend."
The Braves young roster reflects their coach's confidence; as younger members of the squad are performing well down the stretch.
Freshman Ahmed Albitar was a combined 8-0 in singles and doubles matches last week, including No. 1 singles wins at both Illinois State and Southern Illinois.
Sophomore Arthur Romanet posted a combined record of 6-1 last week and went undefeated in singles play, helping the Braves go 3-1in that stretch. On Wednesday, Romanet was named Bradley Country Financial Scholar-Athlete of the Week.
Freshman Michael Davis also played solidly, picking up impressive victories in both matches of Tuesday's doubleheader.
"It's a great bunch of guys and everybody is trying to get better and everybody is looking forward to keeping everything going," said Davis. "So we just hope to build on each other's success and work hard in practice, and hopefully good things will happen."
As far as what kind of things can fans expect this weekend, Plote is optimistic about his team's chances.
"The sky is the limit for the conference tournament."