Drake improved to 7-1 on the season on Sunday as it posted a 7-0 victory over the Northern Illinois Huskies. The clean sweep was the fourth so far this season, and the Bulldogs have now won all five matches they have played at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center. What is even more impressive is that the Bulldogs have accumulated 44 combined singles and doubles wins while dropping only one singles match at home.
The impressive statistics were only bolstered on Sunday afternoon, as Drake got off to its usual fast start in the doubles matches. Junior Anis Ghorbel sat out for both singles and doubles matches with an injured toe, so his usual partner, junior James McKie, teamed up with freshman Ben Mullis at the third position. The two posted a clean 8-4 victory over their Northern Illinois opponents, but not before the usual pairings of freshman Alen Salibasic and senior Cesar Bracho tallied an 8-1 win at the top slot. Junior Jean Erasmus and sophomore Robin Goodman were busy registering an 8-3 victory of their own.
“I feel like right now our doubles is much further along than we were at this point last season,” head coach Evan Austin said. “The guys realize how important that point can be.”
With Ghorbel nursing an injured toe, it was McKie who had singles duty at the top spot. McKie’s solid play at the second and third positions translated seamlessly to the first position, as the Drake junior was stunningly dominant in a 6-0, 6-1 victory.
“I was moving very well throughout the match, and I just stuck to my game plan to get the job done,” McKie said.
While McKie breezed through his match, Erasmus had to battle it out at the second slot. After dropping the first set 3-6, Erasmus was visibly frustrated, and it looked like he was on track for his first home loss of the season. But the young Bulldog clawed his way back through sheer determination, winning the second set 6-3 and capturing the deciding third set super-tiebreaker 10-7.
Salibasic suffered a similar fate at the third position. The Drake freshman also dropped the first set 3-6, but as his consistency improved, he went on to win the second set 6-4. The match was decided in a super-tiebreaker format, in which Salibasic won 10-6.
“Alen and Jean did a great job of competing in those two matches where they were down a set,” Austin said. “I think that’s a good sign of our toughness and resiliency.”
Goodman, who was recently named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week, straightened out affairs for the Bulldogs with a routine 6-3, 6-0 win at the fourth position.
Mullis was locked into a heated match against Northern Illinois’ Frederic Cadieux. Mullis captured the first set 6-3, but it wasn’t until the second set that tensions rose. After Mullis called one of his opponent’s shots out, Cadieux erupted in disbelief. After spending almost four minutes arguing with Mullis and pleading with the line judge, Cadieux returned to the match, although he frequently was left yelling in between points. The outburst proved useless as Mullis went on to win the match 6-3, 6-4.
Bracho’s match at the sixth position was much more subdued as the Bulldog senior simply went about his business in a 6-3, 6-0 win.
The Bulldogs next match is against their highest ranked opponent so far this season in the No. 38 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers currently boast a 4-2 record, with the two losses coming at the hands of No. 31 Virginia Tech and No. 19 Oklahoma.
So far this season, Drake and Nebraska share two common opponents: Denver and East Tennessee State. The Cornhuskers beat Denver 4-3 while the Bulldogs knocked off the Pioneers 4-1. Nebraska defeated ETSU 4-3, and the Bulldogs won 6-1 against the same opponent. If these matches are any indication, the national rankings may not be indicative of the final score tomorrow night in Lincoln, Neb.
Austin said his team is looking forward to the matchup against a Top 40 foe.
“We feel we belong with those teams,” Austin said. “We just have to go out and play within ourselves, and I feel we’ll have a great shot to get a win.”