Photo: Connor McCourtney
The Big Ten Conference is a dominant force in college athletics, and the Drake men’s tennis team is one of the few mid-major teams to be led by those with experience from high-level tennis. Next year, the Bulldogs will rely on two people, one coach and one player, to use their experience at Big Ten programs to make Drake one of the premier teams in the Midwest.
Evan Austin was the assistant coach at Wisconsin for four years before becoming the head coach at Drake this past fall. Austin helped transform the Badgers from good to great, as the Wisconsin squad finished the 2010 spring season ranked No. 23 in the nation. Austin will rely on his two seniors next season, Cesar Bracho and Jonathan Hadash, to continue the winning legacy of Drake’s most consistent team in recent history.
Hadash has experience playing for a Big Ten team. The Israeli native spent his freshman year and half of his sophomore year as a Golden Gopher for Minnesota. Hadash spent much of his time playing in the fifth and sixth singles positions for the Gophers, but Hadash felt like the atmosphere of the team wasn’t for him. Former head coach Jimmy Borendame and former assistant coach Maor Zirkin recruited Hadash to Drake, where he has played much of this year at the sixth singles position.
“Coach Austin spoke to me specifically because I’m coming from a Big Ten school with a successful program,” Hadash said. “He wants me to bring the attitude and the maturity that teams need to have to be in the rankings.”
The Big Ten is well-known for its football and basketball programs, but the tennis teams are just as dominant. Eight of the 11 conference teams are in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings, with four in the top 25. Austin and Hadash are hoping to start bringing the Big Ten work ethic and determination to Drake, and that process has already begun. Although the schedule for next spring is not official, Austin has scheduled the Bulldogs to play much tougher competition in an effort to improve their ranking and to prepare them better for the State Farm MVC Championship.
“With good experience, good leadership and with a better schedule, we can get into the top 50 next year, I think,” Hadash said.
One of the biggest things the Bulldogs will be missing next year is the enthusiastic attitude of senior Mauricio Ballivian. Bracho and Hadash believe they will have to emulate the enthusiasm and positive energy that Ballivian has brought to the team the last two years. Both players are looking to improve the team off the court as well.
“I think both Bracho and I are positive people,” Hadash said. “We are good academic performers as well, so if we can get our team to put as much work into school as they do tennis, we can be a full package.”
Bracho said that the two seniors will be doing their best to lead by example, working hard in the off season as well as the fall and spring. With Austin entering his second season as head coach, the team is looking to completely forgo the introductory phase that the team went through at the beginning of this season and start out stronger at the beginning of next season.
“Everyone is gaining more and more experience and getting better and better,” Bracho said. “I not only think we are going to do well, but do better and move up higher in the rankings.”