BY ADAM ROGAN
An injury to the Drake women’s tennis team’s no. 1 — senior Mariel Ante — benched her on Saturday, leaving the Bulldogs with only five viable players for their doubleheader against Upper Iowa University and the Northern Iowa.
That means that one point would automatically go to Drake’s opponent in each match and an automatic forfeit in one of the doubles matches, leaving the Bulldogs at a disadvantage.
“It’s tough,” head coach John Hollimon said. “You start down 0-1 … Everybody’s got to go out and get the job done. I think they didn’t really play any differently than they would’ve any other day, other than they have that urgency that you can’t give (your opponent) an inch because you’re already starting down.”
For Upper Iowa on the morning of Saturday, March 26, that forfeited match would be its only point of the day.
“Going into the match, obviously being down a player, we knew that we really had to step it up, and I think we came out and did that today,” sophomore Summer Brills said. “Everybody played their butts off.”
Drake won both of the doubles matches by scores of 6-2 and 6-1, and the singles matches would go just as well for the Bulldogs.
Sophomore Tess Herder won every game on the no. 3 court for a 6-0, 6-0 victory. Freshman Joely Lomas finished soon after with a 6-0, 6-3 win of her own.
Brills took the decisive fourth point with a win on the no. 2 court, a 6-3, 6-2 straight-set victory.
Taking on the University of Northern Iowa Panthers that afternoon – Drake’s first conference match of the season – the Bulldogs again overpowered their opponents despite being outnumbered.
Both of Drake’s doubles teams got out to 2-0 leads in their matches, but the Panthers battled back.
On the no. 1 court, Lomas and senior Maddie Johnson never relinquished their lead, although the Panthers did draw to within one game on two occasions, on their way to a Bulldog victory.
Playing on the no. 2 court, Brills and Herder fell behind 2-3 in a match defined by streaks. But they responded in turn, retaking the lead and moving ahead 5-3. Again, the Panthers battled back and tied the match at five games each.
Down the stretch, however, Brills and Herder dominated. The duo only lost one point in the final two games and won the match 7-5.
Winning that doubles point kept the Bulldogs on an even plane with the Panthers to start singles, leaving the match tied at 1-1.
Sophomore Mela Jaglarz snapped a five-match losing streak with a straight-set victory on the no. 5 court. Herder followed with a 6-2, 6-2 win, extending her win streak to three straight matches and improving her record to 7-5.
Brills clinched the match, and Drake’s first conference win of 2016, in a back-and-forth three‑setter: 6-0, 2-6, 6-2.
Her two clinchers and doubles wins helped Brills earn her the MVC Player of the Week award.
“It’s great knowing we’re starting off (the conference season) with a win,” Brills said.
Johnson went on to win her individual match in a first-to-10 tiebreaker, while Lomas lost in the same format.
The Bulldogs take to the court again this afternoon in a 3 p.m. home match against the University of Iowa before taking the weekend off. There’s a chance that the Bulldogs will be able field a complete lineup for that match, but Hollimon isn’t counting on it.
“Hopefully (Ante) will be in the match on Wednesday, but I can’t say,” Hollimon said. “We’ve got to listen to her body and see how it’s doing. These conference matches are very important — they’re more important than the previous matches we’ve played, — but they’re not as important as the conference tournament. She needs to be as healthy as she can be for that.”
The Bulldogs will have one more home match on April 7 vs. Saint Louis University before a four-match conference road trip through the middle of April.