With the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Creighton men’s tennis squad experienced its fair share of growing pains.
The Bluejays struggled, finishing 7-10 during the regular season and 0-6 in Valley competition. Though they did not win many matches, several newcomers gained valuable experience.
“It’s always a learning process. … Some freshmen it just takes a little bit longer to get acclimated,” coach Tom Lilly said. “To play at the Division I level is not easy, but it’s been good to see them progress and grow as the year’s gone on.”
All seven of Creighton’s freshmen have played in at least one match this year. Newcomers had to step in with only three experienced players healthy for most of the year.
Having so much inexperience made it more important for the upperclassmen, seniors Sean Mathison and Ryan Norman, to set an example.
“I think it gives the upperclassmen a little more incentive to be a better leader,” Lilly said. “Sean and Ryan have stepped up just because we knew how many guys that they would be impacting. They can either do it in a positive way or a negative way, and so they’ve been trying to give their best and make it positive for those guys.”
Anthony Rauschenbach not only was the most successful freshman, he was the only player on the team who played in more than one match and finished with a winning record. The Sioux Falls, S.D., native went 9-3, with eight wins coming at No. 6 singles.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Lilly said. “I think we knew going in that we better win a lot of matches at 6. … Anthony’s won so many close matches and he’s a fighter and he stays in every match. And he’s just been real steady for us at 6.”
Rauschenbach was not in the singles lineup to begin the season. However, senior Billy Paluch’s season-ending injury opened the door.
“It sucked that Billy got hurt,” Rauschenbach said. “But I was thankful to get in there and just do my best and try to keep getting wins for the team.”
Rauschenbach’s experience, particularly in close games, helped him improve throughout the year.
“I’ve just been progressively getting better over the season and I’ve been focused in all my matches,” he said. “I’ve pulled out a lot of close three-set matches and I’ve just been able to stand on my matches and just keep fighting through them.”
Quinn Dippel, another freshman who found success, won seven of his 17 matches while playing at numerous singles spots.
Creighton will lose two players from this year’s group in Mathison and Norman. Paluch is eligible to receive a medical redshirt after injuring his foot in the second match of the year.
The Jays also signed Norman’s brother Jake. TennisRecruiting.net lists Jake Norman as the No. 2 player from Kansas and No. 4 in the Plains Region.