Drake begins its fall season this Friday at the Purdue Fall Invitational in West Lafayette, Ind. The tournament will feature three singles flights and two doubles flights with play continuing Friday through Sunday.
Head coach Evan Austin is only bringing four of his 10 players to Purdue. Juniors and team captains Jean Erasmus and James McKie are joined by junior Ryan Drake and senior Cesar Bracho.
“The goal for the fall is to get the guys a lot of matches and continue to build momentum for the spring,” Austin said.
The four Bulldogs have a great chance to gain momentum from playing strong opponents, as the invitational features players from a number of talented teams from the region, including Wisconsin, Iowa, DePaul and Arkansas. Hawkeye Mark Bruche, who is ranked No. 101 in the nation in singles, appears to be the strongest player in the draw.
McKie and Erasmus led the Bulldogs last fall with wins over two nationally ranked opponents, both at the 2010 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Regional Championships. Erasmus defeated No. 48 Sebastian Gallego of Minnesota while McKie downed No. 41 Chris Nott of Arkansas. Both players are looking to post results like these on a more consistent basis this fall, and McKie sees no better start to the fall season than making a deep run at the Purdue Fall Invitational.
“I want to win it,” he said. “Whoever I play against I will play to win because I want to be nationally ranked this year.”
McKie expressed his belief that this is the year that the Bulldog squad can “do something special” this season, and Austin can tell that his players are chomping at the bit to make an immediate impact this weekend.
“I think the guys who are going are very eager to play,” Austin said. “They are hitting the ball well so it will be good for them to go up against some high level competition.”
The Drake squad has been focusing on both physical and mental toughness in preparation for this weekend and the season overall. Austin is putting an added focus on fitness this season, as the players are looking to improve their physical condition to compete with the highest level of competition in college tennis.
“We are working on getting our shots sharper, getting mentally stronger and getting our physical condition at the same level with the top schools,” Bracho said.
Austin said that he has already noticed improvements in the team’s fitness level compared to the beginning of practices, and he hopes to put that to the test as each player will play in both singles and doubles matches at Purdue.
The Bulldogs are expecting strong results this season from the doubles tandem of McKie and Erasmus. The duo went 5-0 in conference play and 11-2 overall en route to garnering All-Conference first team honors at the second doubles position.
“I feel relaxed and confident with James and hopefully we can set the bar high by proving ourselves this weekend,” Erasmus said.
Drake and Bracho will play together this weekend, and the two look to capitalize on their experience playing together last season.
“Our experience together is our best benefit,” Bracho said. “We know our strengths and that is a big advantage.”
With the benefit of a few weeks of practice and even more motivation behind them, the Bulldogs are looking to take the Purdue Fall Invitational, and the fall and spring seasons, by storm.
“Last year we felt we had something to prove,” Erasmus said. “This year we all know our potential, and we all know we have so much more inside of us than just winning the conference.”