For Creighton men’s tennis player Billy Paluch, the spring season started with a bang.
The senior became the first Bluejay to be nationally ranked during the 16-year tenure of coach Tom Lilly. Paluch was tabbed No. 91 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, then he easily took the No. 1 singles point by sweeping his opponent in two sets in the Jays’ first dual of the spring season against Western Illinois.
But while Paluch’s season began with a bang, it ended with a pop.
Paluch was competing against Iowa on Saturday, Feb. 9, when things came to a crashing halt.
“I was going to the net … and I put most of my body weight and a lot of pressure on the side of my right foot and I just heard a pop,” Paluch said. “I tried to play that next point and I couldn’t even walk on it.”
Paluch was diagnosed with a fractured foot, which will take three to four months of recovery. Just like that, the spring season for the senior was over and the team was dealt a crushing blow.
“It was a really big loss,” senior Ryan Norman said of Paluch’s injury. “He was our best player by far and he wants to be out here more than any of us, so it’s a bummer that he’s not around anymore.”
But there was no time for the Jays to dwell on their misfortunes. Their next match was the next day.
Lilly was forced to take a next-man-up approach to fill the No. 1 singles void. That next man was Norman, Paluch’s doubles partner.
“We knew someone was going to have to (step up).” Lilly said. “(Norman) was playing the No. 2 position and he had been playing at a high level.”
Norman’s first match in the No. 1 singles position came with one day of preparation against Nebraska, one of the best teams on the Jays’ schedule.
Norman lost the first set, but fought back to win sets two and three to become the first Creighton player since Lilly to beat the Huskers in the No. 1 singles spot. Lilly attributed Norman’s success against Nebraska to focus.
“He was real focused, and when he’s focused and not getting down on himself early he can be a heck of a player and can win at the No. 1 singles position,” Lilly said.
Norman has split his last two singles matches — both 5-2 wins for the Bluejays — and is 2-1 as the Jays’ No. 1 singles player.
“I’m just trying to do as well as (Paluch) would have done,” Norman said. “It’s been really fun though. It’s nice to go out there and get those wins and help lead the team through this.”