No men's tennis program in MCC/Horizon League history has the storied tradition of Butler. The Bulldogs own nine conference championships and six appearances in the NCAA Men's Tennis Championship. Butler has fallen a step short of the league title in each of the past two seasons, but the 2010 edition of the Dogs may have enough firepower to get back to the national tournament.
Butler returns all six of its starters, each player a year older and a year improved, from a team that won 12 duals and went 5-2 in the Horizon League. Still, the team has just one senior in its top seven and appears to be set for several years of success.
Junior Chris Herron, who played most of the season at No. 3 singles last year, is one of the team's key players who will begin the season at the top of the lineup. Herron went 6-1 in Horizon League matches last season and is primed for a breakthrough season.
"We recruited Chris to not just play at the top of the lineup, but to produce there," head coach Jason Suscha said. Suscha cited Herron's serve-and-volley game as his main weapon, and that Herron (9-5 during the fall) "had a breakthrough during the fall season."
Senior Ben Raynauld, last year's No. 1 singles player, also returns. Raynauld was an All-Horizon League performer as a sophomore in 2008 and is a four-time league player of the week. He will play in the top half of the lineup once again.
"Ben is very talented and we are counting on him to supply leadership on and off the court," Suscha said. "He is very talented and knows what it takes to win a championship."
The Butler head coach quickly cited junior Lenz Theodor as the team's most improved player entering this season. Theodor was a Top 200 ITF as a youth player and is known for his intense style. He was 12-12 last season playing mostly at No. 6 singles, but Suscha expects him to elevate his game to the top half of the lineup.
"Lenz sort of had a transition year last year, getting used to the pace of college tennis," the BU coach said. "He had a very good fall and I expect him to contribute in the top half of the lineup."
Junior Bryce Warren was 19-15 last year and returns as another key performer. Warren's 11 victories at No. 2 singles was the team's highest total at any one position in the lineup. He also posted a winning record at No. 1 singles and was 5-2 in Horizon League play.
"Bryce is our overall best competitor," Suscha said. "He has a lot of intelligence and variety in his game and he plays with a ton of physicality."
Junior Brandon Bayliss was the other Bulldog player to claim 19 singles wins last year. Coming off a 7-4 fall season, Bayliss is another experienced performer who knows how to win.
"Not many people want to play Brandon Bayliss," Suscha said. "He's tough and relentless."
A pair of sophomores - Zach Ervin and Stephen McLoughlin - will compete for spots in the bottom half of the lineup. Each player posted a winning dual record last season, with playing mostly No. 4-5 and McLoughlin playing No. 5-6. They both are expected to be an integral part of Butler's doubles lineup.
"Zach is very athletic and he was solid in the fall," Suscha said. "Steve can hit with anybody. He's fast and he can make every shot."
The team's lone freshman, Andrew Bayliss, is a player with huge upside. The younger brother of Brandon Bayliss is big - 6-foot-3 and about 210 pounds - and fast.
"Andrew is starting to put the pieces together. If he plays with confidence, he can dominate," Suscha said."
Senior Ben Shafer and junior David Dolins round out the roster. Each player had a solid fall season and continues to improve.
"Ben and Dave give great effort and attitude to our team," Suscha said. "They are quality individuals."
The experienced roster will certainly be needed this season, as Butler's schedule is as tough as it's ever been. The Bulldogs will hit with current ITA top 50 teams Ohio State (3), Wisconsin (32) and Indiana (48). BU will play three defending conference champions in the non-league schedule.
"We are playing a lot of quality programs but we definitely have the talent to play this schedule," Suscha said.