Story by Dominic Johnson
The No. 27 Drake men’s tennis team suffered its third loss of the season on Sunday when they lost 3-4 to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship, but the Bulldogs’ season continues on into the NCAA tournament after receiving an at-large bid on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs received a No. 2 seed and will face the No. 35 Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. The match will take place on May 10 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the campus of UCLA.
“It would’ve been good to go into the NCAA tournament with the conference tournament championship and another win,” said senior Jean Erasmus. “However, getting into the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid is always something to be proud of and shows the hard work and accomplishments we have gained.”
Before the Bulldogs heard news of their at-large selection around 4:05 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, their NCAA hopes were slightly uncertain. Despite holding an Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking of No. 27, Drake was coming off its first loss to an unranked opponent this season.
The loss to Wichita State was a huge upset, as the Bulldogs were coming off a routine 4-0 win over the Illinois State Redbirds in the semifinals of the MVC tournament.
Drake had also spent the entire season ranked in amongst the Top-50 teams in the nation, while the Shockers only cracked the Top-75 once this season. The Shockers sent the message that they weren’t afraid of the MVC regular season champions or their lineup of All-Conference performers.
The momentum of the match immediately swayed in favor of the Shockers, as Wichita State quickly captured the lone doubles point with victories at the top two slots.
Down 0-1, Drake seniors James McKie, the conference player of the year, and Anis Ghorbel immediately struck back. After pushing the match to 2-1 in the favor of the Bulldogs, Wichita State rallied around its fourth and fifth singles players.
The Bulldogs found themselves down 2-3 and facing troublesome scores in the remaining two matches, with both sophomore Ben Mullis and junior Robin Goodman facing deficits in the third sets of their matches.
Mullis would go on to post a three-set win to tie the score at 3-3, but Goodman’s comeback fell short at the third singles position.
Wichita State’s win earned it the conference’s automatic bid and put two Missouri Valley Conference teams into the NCAA tournament for the first time in MVC history.
“Obviously, we’ll have to practice very hard these upcoming 10 days and forget about the MVC loss, but we know what we’re capable of, and we’re going to give more than 100 percent to make Drake history,” Ghorbel said.