Nicholas Sayer and Joe Mills’ time here at Radford University is just about up. The two seniors have completed their past four years here at Radford University, with most of that time spent on the tennis courts. For now, both seniors sit at 7-4 on the year but with seven matches and postseason play remaining, those records won’t stay that way for long.
Mills, who is from Brighton, England, is an economics major with plans to pursue his MBA after he graduates from RU in the summer. From the very beginning, Mills says he knew that tennis was the sport meant for him and after being influenced by his family, he has been playing since he was 8 years old.
“I saw my brother, who is three years older than me, playing tennis and I always had that determination to try and be better than him. So I got in to it that way and as it progressed I fell in love with tennis more than any other sport.” Mills said.
Sayer is from Hong Kong and is also working towards his MBA while majoring in finance here at RU and will graduate in the 2014 fall semester. Sayer was also influenced by his family’s love for tennis to take up the sport and since the age of six he has spent very little time without a tennis racquet in his hand.
“It was passed down from my parents, and when I was younger they would force me to go to practice and lessons. But once you start to get good at it and you’re better at it than anything else, you might as well stick with it,” Sayer said.
The first part of the season has been a rough one for the men’s tennis team as they currently own a 2-10 record but with four freshman on the team that is to be expected.
“We are fairly young in experience but they are coming along and developing. The team is improving and we are building up for the conference tournament at the end of the season so we will have to wait and see,” Sayer said.
“It takes a while for these young players to adapt to life in America. Three of them are from different countries and they have never been to America, so it will take a little while for them to adjust and hopefully we will be back on track soon,” Mills said.
Both Mills and Sayer know what that transition is like. It is even harder to imagine making that transition as a freshman in college.
“It’s hard to adjust, and I know my freshman year started off quite hard, but once you get used to it you start to improve,” Sayer said.
Sayer and Mills did have an advantage coming into their freshman year that the current freshman did not have; they both came in during the fall semester, which gave them time to prepare for the season and get adjusted. The freshman this year came at the start of the spring semester and were thrust into action immediately.
The choice to come to RU to play tennis was an easy decision for Sayer, who simply followed in his brother Martin’s footsteps. He set his sights on RU very early in the process after Head Coach Mike Anderson recruited Martin.
For Mills, the process of choosing RU wasn’t quite as set in stone as Sayer’s was.
“I looked at Radford on the rankings of tennis, and then Coach called me up. There were a few other schools on the West Coast and down in Alabama that I talked to, but I felt that Radford gave the best package deal with what I wanted to do,” Mills said.
The two knew of each other before coming to the U.S. as they competed against each other in England. Mills says that casual talks with Sayer around competitions is another way he found out about RU.
Since becoming a Highlander, Sayer says that his forehand has been the biggest part of his game that has improved while Mills says he has been able to adapt to different games styles more effectively.
“In my freshman year I wouldn’t necessarily hit winners or be the offensive player. I was more of a defensive player,” Sayer said. “Now I’ve become more of an offensive player and I dictate the play more with my forehand.”
“When you come here and play everyone from all over the world you have to adapt to different games styles and when I was a freshman I had a lot of trouble with that,” Mills said.
During their time here at RU both seniors agreed that their sophomore year had been the most memorable year thus far, during which they repeated as Big South conference tournament champions—almost easily, Mills said.
“The first time it was new and we didn’t really know what to expect and then the second time we were almost able to enjoy it a bit more. We didn’t even drop a match the entire tournament,” Mills said.
That season was just the beginning of all the awards to come for these two. Sayer has amassed numerous honors during his time, such as the 2011-12 Radford University Male Athlete of the Year, the 2012 Big South Player of the Year, 2011 Big South Freshman of the Year and the Big South Player of the Week honor four times in 2012.
Mills has also garnered multiple awards in his time with the Highlanders tennis program such as 2012 Big South Singles Flight Champion, Big South Freshman of the Week in 2011—and in the 2011-12 season was one of only two Highlanders to go undefeated in BSC play.
Both seniors have also participated in the NCAA tournament as a team after winning the conference tournament and Sayer was able to compete in the singles competition in 2012 as well.
“It’s a big step. I think freshman year we played Tennessee, who was ranked third in the country, and then Kentucky who was ranked sixth in the country during our sophomore year,” Sayer said. “It’s really good experience.”
Sayer believes his biggest individual win came in the fall of his sophomore year against the number ninth-ranked player in the country at the time, Jose Hernandez. Hernandez played for the University of North Carolina and Sayer had an outstanding tournament in which he went on to beat Hernandez. Mills would say his biggest win came in Texas when the match was tied at 1-1 and Mills was down 5-3 in the deciding game. Mills was able to rally and come back, which tied the match, and then former teammate Thomas Dehaen won his match to give RU the win.
Their biggest team win, they both agreed, came against Winthrop in the 2011 BSC tournament when they took the match 4-3 at their home court. Coming into the tournament, the Highlanders had lost to the Eagles by the same score of 4-3 and were able to avenge the loss when it counted most.
After graduation both seniors plan on finding a job that allows them to stay and work in America.
“The tennis route for me is not financially feasible. Within tennis probably the top 100 in the world make a decent living, so I hope to find a job in business that will allow me to stay in the U.S.,” Mills said.
While Mills will be searching for a job, Sayer will still have one more semester left before he has to start the job search. As for if they ever regret being a student athlete, there is only one time of the year when they really start to second guess their decision.
“Exam week. Its always a pain when you have a billion exams and all these assignments and the you know that you have practice right before because you have commitments,” Sayer said.
“There are those times, but there are other times when I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wouldn’t have seen most of America if I hadn’t been a student athlete. We have been to the West Coast twice; we’ve been down to Florida and up to New York,” Mills said.
So as graduation nears and the end of tennis season rapidly approaches, Sayer and Mills know that it certainly wont be easy to leave RU and their tennis careers behind. Being around people their own age, playing tennis competitively and even going to class are all things that will be greatly missed.
“The routine. Even though we may mope and groan about it, when it’s actually not there I think I’ll miss it,” Mills said. “You lead up to graduation wanting to graduate and then when the time comes, you don’t want it to end, because you know that this is going to be the best time of your life.”