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No. 1 in tennis, Tilton delivers
By Drew DeVries

In Lancaster County, Pa., lies a small town named Gap. This city that holds just more than 1,600 people is where Ricky Tilton first developed his talent and passion for the game of tennis.

Ricky was about 10 years old when a family friend began giving him lessons at the local YMCA. Soon after, his parents and sister started playing, and Tilton took off. Several years later, Tilton said he was influenced to consider Calvin by relatives who had attended the college. In addition to wanting a Christian college experience, Tilton also felt that Calvin had a decent tennis program. It seemed like a good fit.

Ricky TiltonTilton wasted no time in building up his tennis reputation during his freshman year. Playing at the No. 4 singles slot, he posted an 18-5 mark, as well as a 15-6 record in the No. 1 doubles spot. He also finished runner-up at No. 4 singles at the 2005 MIAA tournament.

Due to his outstanding freshman year, head men's tennis coach John Ross moved Tilton to the No. 1 singles flight—a position that Tilton has remained in since. The initial move was quite a change, Tilton said.

“It was different from what I thought it would be like,” he said. “It was mentally draining because when I was playing No. 4, it wasn't as challenging. But at No. 1, you always have to be ready to play and be focused because you're playing against their top guy.”

The added pressure has not seemed to faze Tilton much, as he went 12-10 in singles play and 16-8 at No. 1 doubles in 2006 and then 16-8 in singles and 18-6 in doubles this past spring as a junior. He was ranked 27th individually in the 2006 NCAA Division III Central Region rankings and then moved up to 15th this year. In addition, he was named to the 2006 and 2007 All-MIAA first teams.

Because of Tilton's outstanding play and accomplishments, Ross can't say enough about his player: “He's an outstanding student athlete with a tremendous work ethic that he brings to tennis and academics,” Ross said. “He is determined to be a great player and dominated practices early on. He was No. 4 singles during his first year but wanted to come out and prove he's the best player in our program.”

Tilton's efforts this spring also helped the Calvin men's tennis team garner its first bid to the NCAA III Tournament since 1996. The Knights reached the second round of the tournament with a first-round win over Ohio Northern University.

“Ricky played a key role in our team reaching the national tournament,” Ross said. “He provided the big punch at the top of our lineup and was ready to face the top opponent that each team had to offer.”

In the classroom, Tilton has recorded a 3.94 grade point average while majoring in biochemistry with the focus of attending medical school after graduating from Calvin.

Because a pre-medicine course load is a tough route to take, it seems that a tennis season on top of it would almost be too rigorous. Not for Tilton.

“It hasn't been a problem because when I'm in a sports season, I can do better because it really makes me focus,” he said. “Labs have been tough, but Coach Ross has been great with letting me miss practice when necessary.”

That focus and determination has put Tilton on the dean's list six times and three on the MIAA Academic Honor Roll. He has also been a three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic selection and a member of the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District team once.

On top of his interest in biology and medicine, Tilton has a deep interest in Spanish. He hopes to put his skills and interests to test in some type of medical mission work in a Spanish-speaking country. This desire may have roots in an 11th-grade mission trip he took with his family to Honduras for two weeks.

“I'm very interested in learning Spanish. You go there and see the poverty and just want to reach out to those people,” Tilton said. “I have no idea where I'm going to end up, but I would like to learn Spanish and try to help as much as I can."