By ERIN O’BOYLE
The Drake Men’s Tennis team began conference play this past month in the start of their 2019 portion of their season. Last spring the Bulldogs were champions at the Summit League tournament that qualified them for the NCAA tournament. Although they ultimately came up short in the NCAA tournament, their 2017-2018 season set a precedent for the team’s potential.
With many of the men from last season returning, plus a fair amount of new talent, this 2018-2019 season is already showing great potential. The Summit League, the conference that the Bulldogs have recently joined, released a preseason poll that showed Drake has the favorite to win the conference yet again.
The Bulldogs hosted Northern Illinois on the morning of Jan. 19 at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center to kick of the 2019 portion of their season. They defeated the Huskies 4-3 with wins at No. 1 singles, No. 4 singles, No. 5 singles, No. 2 doubles, and No. 3 doubles.
Later that day, the Bulldogs hosted Tennessee Tech. If the Bulldogs were tired from the NIU match, you would have never have guessed it. Drake pulled off a 6-1 defeat of Tennessee Tech with victories across the board, including all single matches except one and two out of the three doubles matches went to Drake.
The next day, Jan. 20, the Bulldogs again hosted two matches against rivals Purdue and Illinois State. Purdue has long been Drake’s rival due to the closeness every time the two teams meet. On Sunday, however, Drake pulled off the win with a 4-2 victory thus giving Purdue the first loss of their season. Later that day, the Bulldogs defeated Illinois State with a final score of 5-2.
In an impressive show of strength, all three of Drake double’s teams didn’t lose a single match all day. Senior Vinny Gillespie and junior Barnaby Thorold showed no mercy at No. 1 doubles with a 6-2 defeat of Purdue and a 6-1 defeat of Illinois State.
The four-game winning streak wasn’t the only thing making headlines at the Roger Knapp Center that weekend. The tennis center is now equipped with state-of-the-art video cameras to stream the matches in real time to fans across the globe. These cameras were created by AVI Systems, Inc. for the tennis center and funded by generous private donations and a USTA (United State Tennis Association) grant that focuses on court technology advancement.
“Having the streaming service was a big step for us. It took a lot of effort and time from everyone involved to raise the money we needed, but it was all worth it since we had a lot of viewers opening weekend,” Thorold said. “It also means the families and friends of the international players can watch from home.”
The next weekend the Drake men’s tennis team traveled to Norman, Oklahoma for the ITA Kickoff Weekend tournament. The Bulldogs first match on Saturday, January 26 was against nationally ranked No. 13 Oklahoma University. After a hard fought match, the Bulldogs came away with their first loss of the season with a 0-4 loss against Oklahoma.
The next day, the Bulldogs faced Vanderbilt in the ITA Kickoff Weekend Consolation match. Even with two wins at No. 1 singles and No. 3 singles, the Bulldogs fell to Vanderbilt 2-4.
“We played some good top ranked teams who have very strong players throughout their line-up,” Thorold said reflecting on the back-to-back losses. “Despite this we still had chances and opportunities that aren’t portrayed in the scores. We have to go back to the drawing board and go again. We can take positives away from this weekend, but have to realize our mistakes as well.”
The Bulldogs will return home to face Dartmouth College on February 10 at 11 am. The match against Dartmouth will be the first of eight straight games that the Bulldogs will play at home.
To live stream upcoming matches visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLUkEdksimc9_dQIwUfViEQ/featured
Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics