The first part of the spring tennis season has been kind to the Creighton Bluejays. Both the men’s and women’s teams are currently riding winning streaks, with a flurry of home matches set for this weekend.
- Men’s team vs. Wichita State on Friday (11:00 a.m.); vs. Nebraska Wesleyan on Friday (3:00 p.m.)
- Women’s team vs. Nebraska Wesleyan on Friday (1:00 p.m.); Drake on Saturday (12:00 p.m.); Northern Iowa on Sunday (10:00 a.m.).
White & Blue Review caught up with Creighton’s head tennis coach Tom Lilly to talk about the season to this point, what he expects in the coming weeks, and what fans can watch for this weekend (all matches at the Koch Family Tennis Center; admission is free).
White & Blue Review: First, congratulations on what has been a very successful spring season to this point. Both the men’s and women’s teams are riding impressive winning streaks. What’s been the key to their recent success?
Tom Lilly: The women’s team started out against some tough competition and began the year 1-4. I believe those early matches gave us a better idea of our strengths and weaknesses and where we need to work the most. It also gave them some experience against very good players that will continue to pay off. We have found a groove in doubles and we have players stepping up right now and playing hard in every match. We did not have that in a few of our first matches of the year.
For the men, playing a Nebraska team that was recently ranked in the top 25 as our first match, followed by our MVC Individual tournament, gave them some much needed experience against top competition as well. We have recently played a few teams that were close to our level last year and a few years ago but we have improved throughout our line-up and have worked harder than they have to get where we are.
WBR: Judging by the fact that the men’s and women’s teams didn’t lose a match during their spring break trip to Orlando, I’d say you’re pretty happy with how the trip went, right? For readers who might not be familiar with Creighton’s tennis program, can you describe the dynamics of the spring break road trips?
TL: The spring break trip to Orlando was good for our teams because it allows us to get outside and play some tennis in the elements; wind and sun and slower courts. This is great physically and mentally for our players. We played some teams that are either top in their conferences or close to the top; a couple were NCAA teams recently. I commended both of our teams for showing up and playing hard in every single match; that is why we won those matches over break. The teams we played were closer to our level than they showed but our players rose to the occasion and were there to win matches, not mess around. We had some fun along the way but we really stressed that our trip was to play high level tennis and continue improving as a group.
We take both teams and often times they play at the same locations and times so they really get to have fun with each other and support the other team. The men and women become pretty good friends and they all get to know each other more than most other teams that don’t travel together.
WBR: In one of our previous interviews, you talked about the time and effort your athletes dedicated to their offseason strength and conditioning programs. From your perspective, how much of a factor have these efforts made in their successful starts to the spring season?
TL: I believe our team’s efforts in the weight room and in conditioning workouts have so far helped us stay healthy and also maintain a high level of play throughout an entire match. Right now the men have already tripled our three-set wins from last year, and the girls have doubled theirs. The men were a horrible 3-15 in three-setters last season and have already won more than 10 and lost only 6 so far. We hope to continue that trend in conference play.
WBR: Along with a visit by the Nebraska Wesleyan men’s and women’s teams this Friday, your squads welcome some Missouri Valley Conference foes into Omaha for the weekend — after traveling to Des Moines to face Drake Thursday, the men play Wichita State Friday; the women face Drake on Saturday and Northern Iowa on Sunday. How have your teams fared against the Shockers, Bulldogs, and Panthers in the past? What are you expecting from your players this weekend?
TL: The men have not beaten Drake since 1989, and we have never beaten the Shockers. I would say that we have as good of a chance as ever this year at beating these two teams, which are typically at the top of our conference. We have won several individual matches throughout the years but never a team match; hopefully we will get great efforts from everyone and if so, we have a shot at each of those team matches.
The women have never beaten Drake before but we lost a very close match last year, 5-2. We know we have the players to make it happen this year. The women have a winning record against Northern Iowa but have not won in recent years, as they Panthers have gotten stronger. They are coming off a 2nd place finish at the MVC tournament last year but we have wins over several of their players. I believe our girls are confident, as are Jean and I, that if we play well in those two team matches we have a great chance of winning both of them.
WBR: Who are the leaders of your teams, both on and off the court?
TL: We have people that have stepped up at different times and have led in different ways. Right now we have three players that have been selected to meet with me frequently as a group of leaders: Kyle Obermeier, James McAvoy, and Bryan Lube. We also have players that have led by example in workouts, and all of them continue to push each other.
I would not say that there is one person that the entire team looks to as a leader at this time but we have a group of people that continue to reach higher. For the women, Tess Reddin and Lindsey Erickson are the captains and lead the team more by example than anything. Neither of them are the vocal leaders but both have been on the team for a while and know what to expect and what is expected of the team in practices and matches.
WBR: Who seems to have made the biggest improvements during the past year?
TL: Our freshman Anna Kirshenbaum started off a bit slow this year but has remained positive and has really brought her doubles and singles game to another level. Since starting off 1-3 she has now won her last 9 matches. Mary McMullan has also improved her game and has made her way into the doubles line-up.
For the men, I find it hard to single out one player that has improved the most as they continue to beat up on each other in practice and have made it nearly impossible for me to have a consistent line-up — someone different is stepping up all the time.
WBR: With a little less than a month to go before the MVC Team Championships in Wichita, what are your players going to focus on most in their games?
TL: Both teams will continue to work on doubles strategy and their own individual singles games for the rest of the season. We know that we have two very good teams and that both of them can finish in the top half of our conference if we play very well and play with confidence during big points and big games at crunch time.