At Rock Bridge tennis matches, it is hard to ignore a small patch of orange bouncing around in the sea of green and white.
The orange patch belongs to Bruins junior Justin Winner and usually resides on top of his head. It is a University of Illinois hat he received at a tennis camp there a few years ago. Since then, Winner has worn the cap for good luck and does not like to play matches without it.
“This hat has kind of been through a lot,” Winner said. “I started winning a lot with it, so I’ve just kind of kept it on.
“There’s something about this hat. I just like wearing it.”
Winner said having the hat brings him comfort when he is on the court. He does not seem to care how he wears it, and in the span of a match, the hat changes positions about 20 times. Winner said he does not intend to take it off soon.
“I hope I can graduate with this hat on,” Winner said.
Winner will wear his lucky hat when Kickapoo, Parkway Central and Cape Girardeau Central come to Columbia to play against Rock Bridge (5-0) today at Bethel Park at 11 a.m. Each team will play two other teams and there will be no winner.
Winner did not always see himself playing tennis in high school. When he was in eighth grade, he expected to play basketball. He said after watching a few Rock Bridge tennis matches and receiving encouragement to play from coach Ben Loeb, his focus changed to tennis.
Loeb said when he first asked Winner to play he saw a lot of potential in him.
“I thought he could develop into a very good player given that he’d really work at it and he seems like the type of kid that is willing to work at it,” Loeb said. “He’s come along quite well.”
Loeb said Winner’s major strengths are his groundstrokes and his first serve. He also said Winner improves each year.
Winner, a second year starter, said experience helps him overcome troubles on the court.
“Last year I kind of got nervous in some tight matches,” Winner said. “I guess just a year of experience gives you more comfort when you play.
“I really enjoy a close match.”
Loeb had many good things to say about Winner as a person and a player, but he could not think of anything good to say about his hat.
“He’s got to hit the serve in a little more regularly for me to like that hat,” Loeb said.