It isn’t easy to predict how an athlete is going to perform in their debut collegiate season. For Dusty Boyer, arguably the best tennis player to come out of Minnesota considering his high school record of 174-13 and four state titles, it was no different.
Having never lived outside of Ham Lake and now seven hours away in Lincoln, Neb., the adjustment to college life as a student is pressure enough. Will he choke? Will the competition for spots scare him off?
But the Husker freshman came out with tenacity this season, earning solid spots at No. 1, 2 and 3 singles and doubles for much of the year as well as recording the best individual record on the team to date at 19-17.
Nebraska head coach Kerry McDermott said, typically, true freshmen don’t produce such results or even earn an opportunity at the top spot on the squad.
“Most freshmen, unless they have one big weapon, don’t play at one or two,” McDermott said. “Dusty has a weapon, a big forehand, but it’s still tough to play a freshman at one just because of the experience that everyone else has. He (Boyer) seems to like those opportunities at the one spot, so we’re looking to put him there next season and we hope he keeps that spot.”
Boyer’s forehand isn’t the only skill that’s improved this season, as the rookie showcased his growth in the top matchup of the day against the Gophers last Friday at the Nebraska Tennis Center in Lincoln.
The Husker battled Minnesota senior and top-50-ranked Rok Bonin, who is 25-9 on the season. The Slovenia native beat Boyer in a match earlier this fall with decisive 6-1 and 6-4 scores in two of three sets, but Boyer gave him a run this time around in a tiring back-and-forth battle.
Minnesota took the edge overall in doubles play, winning two of three matches. Boyer and freshman partner Marc Herrmann earned the only win for Big Red, at the No. 2 spot. In singles play, Boyer on the No. 1 court and Sebastian Florczyk at No. 6 roared full strength into hour four of play with some weight on their shoulders.
Following wins by Huskers Tom Blackwell (No. 3) and Herrmann (No. 4), Minnesota clung to a one-point lead. Both Boyer and Herrmann needed wins to clinch a comeback win.
Boyer lost the first set 6-3, but caught Bonin by surprise with more consistent serves and his telltale forehand in the second set, winning 6-4. Boyer led most of the deciding set after coming back from a one-point penalty, which stemmed from a code violation by a teammate whose match had already concluded, in front of a loud crowd and cheering teammates.
But Boyer and his fans soon ran out of steam after Florcyzk lost on court six, meaning the Huskers would stay at just two Big Ten wins on the season. Boyer fell 4-6.
“I thought I played pretty well except at the beginning there and a bit at the end, but overall felt pretty good about it,” Boyer said.
With weather constraints keeping his high school squad off the courts for the time being, Forest Lake head coach Greg Patchin is keeping tabs on Boyer, including the match against Minnesota.
“In fairness to Dusty, this is a 19-year-old college freshman going up against 23- and 24-year-old Europeans, so I think he is doing really well,” Patchin said. “I went down to scout Rok when he played Michigan State, and I didn’t think Dusty would have a shot. Then to almost beat him was just unbelievable.”
Boyer later said the match against Bonin is indicative of the difference between high school and college play.
“It’s totally different from high school because you really play for yourself,” Boyer said. “But, there have still been a couple matches this season where I’m still playing and the team has already lost, so you do kind of lose motivation because, you know, you want the team to win too.”
That team mindset is what makes Boyer a key addition to the team, according to McDermott. The head coach said the eight freshmen on the squad all came in with a certain level of cockiness, which is good, but that needs to be kept in check. This season was a growing process for the underclassmen overall from a mental standpoint, and McDermott said Boyer has come a long way.
“He’s a great team player. He cares about the team, and the other thing is he’s just a good person in general,” McDermott said. “After the match today our assistant pointed out Dusty’s professionalism on the court and that’s what we want. He just needs to continue to learn to stay positive and not let his feelings dictate how he’s playing. Once he starts to learn how to let go of his emotions, he will be a very tough force for us next year in Division I tennis.”
Back at home, Boyer looks forward to seeing his younger brother, sophomore Toby, begin his own quest for a state title once the weather clears. Although Boyer will travel to Columbus, Ohio, next week for the Big Ten championships, he said he will be keeping a close watch on his brother during section and state tournament time.
“He’s capable of winning state,” Boyer said. “He’s better as a sophomore than I was, but there’s good competition out there, too. I hope he wins all three years, because that would be pretty cool to see the Boyer name on the state title page seven times in a row.”