Men’s and women’s head tennis coach Tom Lilly reached his 450th win with a women’s tennis victory over Saint Louis Feb. 9.
The former Jay has collected an impressive set of seasons both as a player and a coach.
Lilly is currently sitting at third all-time on the Creighton career wins list, collecting 128 victories in his four years.
But now in his 23rd year of coaching with Creighton, he’s approaching the game from a different angle and with a new appreciation.
“Being able to work with college kids has been fun,” Lilly said. “Every year there’s a new group, the team may just change by a couple people but it’s a different team and new energy and new people.”
Over time, the new sets of players have taught him to work with new personalities and reach each player individually.
“He does a really good job watching back film and if he sees something that a particular person needs to work on he makes sure to incorporate that in practices,” sophomore Gabby O’Connor said.
As coach for both squads, Lilly adjusts his coaching to their different styles. Although he doesn’t see major differences between the two teams, Lilly says he owes some of the women’s program success to the dynamic coaching with his wife, Jean Lilly.
“They have different perspectives on how things can work but both bounce ideas off each other and are able to then pick out what they see in common and plan to work on those things with us,” O’Connor said.
As a former player, Lilly said taking a step back helped him recognize crucial differences between playing and coaching. He notes it comes with handling new conditions.
“Seeing the other side of everything you have to handle so many different situations,” he said. “It’s a lot different than just showing up and putting in a good physical effort on the court and playing you have to handle a lot of different personalities, negativity and find good leadership.”
But he can also use his player experience to relate with players and get to know them which is one way to find success both for the individual and the team. This is something he sees with the groups he has now and his players notice it as well.
“I really like how close he is with the team and how personalized he is with every player,” O’Connor said.
Lilly’s coaching resume includes eight players reaching MVC All-Conference honors, coaching now sophomore Nick Campbell to become the first freshman in program history to earn all-conference honors and leading the 2018 squad to the best program finish since 1993 as they ended at 15-8.
But aside from the stats, Lilly has found greater success in seeing where his players go and the way they develop off of the court.
“I always like when former players come back and say what a good experience they had,” he said. “There’s wins and losses along the way but it’s about when you see people grow and mature and become good leaders.”