Story by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Morgan Dezenski
The No. 43 Drake men’s tennis will look to add to their five-game winning streak this weekend as they travel to Lincoln, Neb., in what may two of their more important matches of the season. This Friday, the Bulldogs will go up against the host Huskers and then on Saturday they will battle the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University, who carry a national ranking of No. 31.
The Huskers enter into the contest with a 1-2 record on the season, with losses to No. 41 Louisville and Oklahoma State. Nebraska’s lone victory has come at the hands of Drake’s Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State, which is seen as one of the teams that will challenge Drake for the conference title this year. Although the Bulldogs are the favorite in Friday’s match, they are not taking Nebraska, or their home court advantage, lightly.
“These two matches are pretty important to keep building our confidence throughout the season,” said senior Anis Ghorbel. “Nebraska are not ranked anymore but they are a very solid team. They have couple new freshmen who are not bad at all, so we have to be ready for them even though we’re favorite.”
The Bulldogs are determined to get a win on Friday, as they believe it will provide them with more momentum for their toughest test of the season against No. 31 VCU. The Rams enter the contest with a 6-1 record, including wins over No. 37 Minnesota and No. 61 North Florida. Their only loss of the season was against No. 6 Georgia.
Although none of the current Drake players have gone up against VCU in the dual-match format, they are still familiar with a few members of the Rams squad.
“We know two of the VCU players,” Ghorbel said. “They played at (ITA) All-Americans, very solid and compete really hard, so we’ve got to expect a war against those guys on the court.”
Despite being the underdog in the contest, the Bulldogs are confident that they can capture the upset against a team ranked 12 spots higher than them.
“The match against VCU this coming Friday is one of our most important matches of the season,” said senior Jean Erasmus. “They are ranked a lot higher than us, but are very beatable. If we can win this match, it will not only help our ranking but more importantly help our confidence grow as a team so that we can go into the up-and-coming matches knowing that we are at the Top-25 level, if not higher.”
Drake will be relying on its entire lineup to get the win, but the seniors will likely have to play a huge role if the Bulldogs are to get the upset. Senior James McKie, who is ranked No. 68 in singles, has won all of his singles matches so far this season but struggled slightly against UMKC last weekend. He will have to be in top form at the second singles position. Ghorbel, who is ranked No. 35 in singles, lost his first two matches of the season at the ITA Kick-Off in Malibu, but has a perfect record since then. The Bulldogs are hoping he has returned to form, as his contribution at the top singles slot will be invaluable. Finally, Erasmus may be the final key piece to victory for Drake. Against No. 29 Florida State, Erasmus lost his singles match after dropping two tiebreakers. The Bulldogs will need him to pull through if he gets stuck in that situation again this weekend.
Finally, Drake is placing a huge focus on doubles play going into both matches. The Bulldogs plan on coming out with intensity right from the start to capture the lone doubles point, as the 1-0 lead will give them the momentum going into singles play.
“The doubles point is probably going to be a key factor,” said sophomore Alen Salibasic. “I think we are going to do our best to win the doubles point and getting the momentum on our side. Once we have that energy going it will be easier to play our singles matches.”
Check back with The Times-Delphic in the next issue for the results of Drake’s weekend in Nebraska.