By DRAKE LOHSE
The Maas Brothers come from Belgium. Finley Hall hails from New Zealand. All in all Drake men’s tennis features only two players who aren’t from overseas.
You might not know it, but Drake Tennis has put together one of the most consistently successful programs in the midwest. In 2017, Head Coach Davidson Kozslowski, a Florida native, led Drake to their 10th MVC championship, and their 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2016, Davidson led a young Drake squad through one of the toughest schedules in team history. The schedule that season featured 17 nationally ranked teams. 11 of those 17 ranked in the top-40.
At the end of that grueling schedule, the Bulldogs came away with a 17-12 record and ranked 49th in the country. Two of their wins came against No. 26 Oregon and No. 23 Minnesota.
But talk to the racketeers of Drake Tennis, and they aren’t bothered by any lack of noise. With the success of the basketball programs and the rebirth of Drake Football, men’s tennis sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. According to some Drake men’s tennis players, that may play to their advantage. “We just focus on winning matches,” said Texas native Bayo Phillips. “That’s all we like to do. It’s easier at times just knuckling down, keeping our own thing consistent, when there’s a lot less noise around.”
If a quiet swagger is their staple, than their unique roster formula is their foundation. Phillips and freshman Reid Jarvis (Missouri) are the only United-States born players on the team. The Men’s Tennis roster is the only one at Drake University not to enlist any Iowans.
Bulldog Tennis is patched together with talent from all over the world. Senior Vinny Gillespie, the 2017 MVC Player of The Year, comes from Scotland. With the exception of Phillips, all five seniors,—Gillespie, England-born Tom Hands and Ben Clark, and Scotland native Calum McGeoch—are from overseas.
But the Frankenstein approach may be at the root of Drake Tennis’ long-term success. “It is transition, to come to a new place from so far away and go to school, live,” McGeogh said. “Having a group of guys who understand the challenge that it is, even having guys that are from the same place that you are, it’s huge.”
Show up, win, go home. No sideshows or bright lights required. A simple approach for Drake Tennis, with their facilities tucked away behind the Bell Center and free from distraction, has become what’s lead them to a 4-2 record already on the season.
The Bulldogs won their first four matches on the year, before dropping two in a row against Vanderbilt and No. 13 Oklahoma.
“The goal is what it’s always been, what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past,” Phillips said. “The MVC Championship. The Conference Tournament is a must. Getting past the second round has been the goal for awhile, we’re always looking to make strides.”
The men’s tennis team hosts Utah State on Feb. 15 at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.