by Eric Oslund
The Elk River boys tennis program has had a history of talented players, and the next one that appears to be on the cusp of greatness is Tyler Creelman.
With the departure of Zeke Delain, Creelman has now become the team’s full-time No. 1 singles players – the two shared the role a year ago. It’s an important role on any tennis team, and not one that he is about to take lightly during his senior year.
He’s been on varsity since he was in eighth grade, working towards this position, and feels he’s ready.
“There’s always that added pressure because coach always put me in positions where I have to win and I’m playing the best of the best on their team,” Creelman said of being the team’s go-to guy. “There’s always that pressure, but I think because I’ve been in the pressure for so long, I kind of like that pressure. I’ve learned to deal with it and embrace it because it’s not going to go away and you’ve got to figure out how to like it.”
The Elks’ opened their season on Saturday, April 8, against Buffalo, Becker, and Hibbing.
Creelman had a chance to look at the team’s program before these opening matches and saw that he was sitting at 97 wins, three short of the century mark. He wanted to be able to get it done that opening weekend, and, sure enough, he did. Defeating Nick Immel of Buffalo 6-0 and 6-1, Brandon Roemer of Becker 6-0 and 6-4, and then Jack Keaying of Hibbing 6-0 and 6-3.
“It was pretty awesome because a lot of players in Elk River that have been good stars reached 100 wins,” Creelman said of reaching the milestone. “Coach (Randy) Ronning always sets up with Saturday matches against the best teams we can find, and those have always made me a better tennis player. I just wanted to make sure I got it done that day.”
It was the perfect way to start the season for the Elks’ new No. 1 singles player, but he wasn’t done. He traveled with the team to Champlin Park on Tuesday, April 11, and shut down his opponents’ top singles player in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-0, to remain unbeaten up to that point.
He said that his success early in the season is because he’s been able to utilize his big serve, while also using his length and speed to get himself in positions for a lot of forehand shots. He’s also been entering into each match, regardless of who has been paired up against, focused on the task at hand.
“I know a lot of the people that I’m going to play, so it’s mainly just going out there and trying to play to win, not playing to not lose,” Creelman explained. “I think, for me, it’s a balance between confidence and a balance between being a realist and seeing your opponents’ weakness.”
Creelman has had the opportunity to play behind, and learn from, great tennis players within this program – most notably Josh and Sam Gearou. He said it was a blessing being able to see all these different players compete because he learned how to approach the game and handle the pressure that’s placed on him every match.
Now, as the No. 1 singles player, he knows that it is his turn to be a leader for the younger and more inexperienced players on the team.
The Elks missed going going to state as a team for the first time in 11 years last season, but Creelman was still able to make it as an individual. That’s not enough for him, though. He made it as part of a team every other year he has been on varsity, and wants to help lead the Elks back there this season.
And he believes they have the players to do it.
“I was pretty confident going into this year that we would be better than last year,” he began. “Last year was kind of our rebuilding year and getting the young players to buy into what we want, and learn. That was our learning year. Our coaches have the saying, ‘Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.’ We did a lot of learning last year and I think now we’re done learning and we’re ready to win. It’s time.”