Photos by Adam Rogan
BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake Men’s Tennis improved to 5-2 in 2017 with two home wins in a Feb. 12 doubleheader. Middle Tennessee University fell 4-3 in the morning and the University of Nebraska at Omaha went down 6-1 in a 2 p.m. match.
Drake’s early season performances in doubles haven’t been as good as desired. Despite their 6-2 record, the Bulldogs are only 4-4 in doubles points.
Head coach Davidson Kozlowski blames this on injuries, saying that his team has “yet to field our strongest” lineup.
Junior Bayo Philips made his first appearance of the season against Middle Tennessee in doubles after recovering from a knee surgery. Junior Calum MacGeoch has been didn’t play at all against Omaha and has had problems with his right shoulder throughout the season. Sophomore Ben Clark isn’t at 100 percent because of a hand injury.
The injuries haven’t shattered the team’s focus, but they still make winning more of a challenge.
“We go into every doubles point with the intention and the determination and stressing the importance of winning the doubles point,” Kozlowski said. “But then once it’s over, win or lose, you just go into singles saying, ‘Doubles means nothing.’”
Staying in form, the Bulldogs lost the doubles point to start their match against Middle Tennessee.
Senior Ben Lott and sophomore team captain Vinny Gillespie made quick work on the first court, winning 6-1, but the rest of the team couldn’t follow suit. Sophomores Tom Hands and Ben Wood went down 6-4, and Philips and freshman Barnaby Thorold lost 6-3.
The Bulldogs picked it up, once again, in singles.
“It’s just two different matches,” Hands said. “You need to separate from (doubles) and just get on to the next one. For me, you just try your best in doubles and, if it doesn’t go your way, you just turn a new leaf.”
The match was tied quickly when Hands won in two sets.
MacGeoch lost quickly on the second court and Middle Tennessee was back on top. Junior Ben Stride and Gillespie put Drake up 3-2 with two set victories, meaning Thorold on court four or Wood on court six needed to win to secure the team victory.
Wood would be the one to pull through. After dominating 6-2 in the first set and falling 3-6 in the second, he cruised to a 6-1 win in the third set.
Thorold, in his seventh collegiate match, had plenty of chances to take the victory but let them slip away, showing his inexperience. He took the first set 6-4 and had a lead in the second set’s tiebreaker. Up 5-1, he dropped six straight points to allow a third set.
“He’s just got to learn how to manage game situations a little bit better,” Kozlowski said. “He’ll hit his way with great shots and get a lead, get some game points, and then maybe needs to play a little bit safer, a little more disciplined. (He) is still playing aggressive, reckless ball, instead of playing aggressive, disciplined ball.”
The third set (rules: first to 10, win by 2) went back and forth. He was behind 4-0, clawed back 2-4, and was down 4-7 soon after before tying the match at 7-all. Neither side broke away and Thorold took an 11-10 lead. But then he gave up three straight points to lose the match.
“After you win that fourth rubber (point), a lot of that nervousness and the pressure is off,” Hands said. “… Obviously you want your teammate to win for himself, but it’s a lot less stressful watching it.”
That afternoon, the Bulldogs swept the doubles point and that powered their dominance in singles over Omaha.
Thorold was the only Bulldog to lose his singles match, falling to 2-5 on the season.
Hands, Wood and Clark all won in straight sets to secure the four points needed victory. Gillespie added another point afterwards to continue his perfect start to 2017. He is 6-0 so far, every match coming on the no. 1 court.
“I feel like I need to do my duty at the number one spot to keep getting the wins for the team,” Gillespie said.
He’s certainly succeeded thus far. In addition to being undefeated, he’s also been named conference player of the week twice.
“The team voted him team captain through his hard work,” Kozlowski added, “nothing to do with wins and losses.”