Photo: Dominic Johnson
The Drake men’s tennis team set a new Missouri Valley Conference record for most titles won by a team in State Farm MVC Individuals Tournament history. The team added three titles this past Sunday, overtaking record holder Indiana State and raising its total to 51 titles in tournament history. Senior Mauricio Ballivian teamed up with sophomore Anis Ghorbel to take the top doubles crown, while Ballivian won the top singles crown, and sophomore Jean Erasmus captured the title at No. 3 singles.
Last year’s Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and Drake’s lone senior, Ballivian, started off his Sunday morning by pairing with Ghorbel in the doubles semifinal at the No. 1 slot. The duo took on a solid Wichita State pairing that pushed the Bulldogs until the very end of the match, but Ballivian and Ghorbel triumphed, 9-7.
In the doubles final, the tandem faced an Illinois State team comprised of Timon Reichelt and Alexander Pelaez, the top two players for the Redbirds. This was the same duo that gave Ghorbel and Ballivian their first doubles loss on Saturday morning, and the two were looking for a little redemption.
“When we lost the first match against them we were like ‘We’re going to meet those guys again in the final and get our revenge,’” Ghorbel said.
At the beginning of the match, it looked like history would repeat itself, as the Drake duo fell behind. As the Redbirds inched closer to victory, Ballivian and Ghorbel took advantage in a change of momentum to break the other duo’s serve, and the two did not relinquish the advantage. The Bulldogs took home their first title, winning 8-6, on the strength of Ghorbel’s booming serve and Ballivian’s fluid volleys.
“‘Mau’ and I are like brothers, we understand each other, we communicate a lot during the matches and we never get negative,” Ghorbel said after the pair’s doubles victory.
After a 45-minute reprieve, Ballivian and Ghorbel took the courts once again, this time for singles action, with sophomore James McKie, Erasmus and first-year Robin Goodman alongside them at second, third and fifth singles, respectively. Only Ballivian and Erasmus prevailed, as the other Bulldogs eventually fell to their Illinois State counterparts.
In what seemed to become a trend of Ballivian’s for the weekend, he looked somewhat sluggish at the start as he dropped the first set, 4-6, to Reichelt of Illinois State. But once again the Drake senior came out of the set changeover looking energized and determined. Breaking the serve of his opponent multiple times, Ballivian took the second set, 6-2. Reichelt’s play picked up in the third set, but Ballivian refused to fade away and won the match on the strength of his serve with a 6-4 advantage in the third set. This was the first conference championship title for Ballivian at the top singles slot, and he admitted that this was the fulfillment of one of his preseason goals.
“He really just got it in his mind that he was going to win this tournament at all costs,” head coach Evan Austin said, “and the hard work he’s been putting in paid off for him.”
If his play this past weekend was any indication, Erasmus may soon join Ballivian as one of the top players in the conference. Erasmus faced off against Matheus Periera of Wichita State at the third singles position, and like his Bulldog teammate, he too was plagued by a slow start. Erasmus faced a 0-4 deficit in the first set. He made a small comeback, but eventually lost the set, 4-6. However, his improved play and the encouragement of Austin brought the sophomore back into the match. Erasmus’ smooth strokes from the forehand and backhand swings soon began to dominate the Wichita State opponent, as the Drake player took the second set, 7-5. With all of the other matches finished, teammates and fans focused their attention on court four, and the enthusiastic Erasmus indulged in it as he constantly fist-pumped toward the crowd as he cruised to a 6-2 victory in the third set, winning his first individual conference title in convincing fashion.
“Ever since coach Austin came on the job, I realized that I truly believe that I am the best that I can be on any day because of his faith in me,” Erasmus said. “He makes me believe in myself and makes a habit of it on a day-to-day basis, not just with me, but everyone on the team as well.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that was the last title won on Sunday. McKie fell to Illinois State’s Pelaez 5-7, 3-6. After making a valiant comeback in the second set, Goodman lost to Tuomas Manner of Illinois State 1-6, 6-4, 3-6. Despite a 5-1 lead in the first set, Ghorbel lost to Filip Miljevic of Illinois State 6-7, 6-3, 1-6.
Despite their three titles, the Bulldogs were not completely satisfied with Sunday’s results, as they dropped three singles matches to Illinois State and only had one doubles team in the finals compared to three for Illinois State.
Despite the setback at two of the doubles positions, the team has already begun to take measures to remedy that. Austin said that he will be changing around the doubles lineups early in the season, with the exception of Ballivian and Ghorbel, to see what pairings work best together.
“We had a long talk about it as a team,” Austin said, “and we’re going to spend a great deal of our time working on our doubles and I feel it’s going to eventually be a very strong point for us.”
The Bulldogs will begin their dual-match season this Saturday at home against the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The match will take place at 1 p.m. at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center, located behind the Bell Center.
The Drake women’s tennis team closed out its trip to Manhattan, Kan., this past weekend with a 1-6 loss to the Kansas State Wildcats.
Despite failing to capture the doubles point, the Bulldog duo of sophomore Manca Krizman and junior Gabby Demos looked impressive at the No. 1 doubles slot as they posted a 9-7 victory over Kansas State’s Karla Bonacic and Petra Niedermayerova.
Freshman Klavdija Rebol paired up with junior Jessica Aguilera, and senior Jessica Labarte with junior Earlynn Lauer, but both teams fell, 3-8, to their Big 12 foes.
In singles play, the Bulldogs struggled at the first five positions, with each Drake player losing in straight sets. The lone singles victory and team point was earned by junior Amanda Aragon in three sets. After winning the first set and dropping the second, the two players settled the match with a 10-point super tiebreaker that Aragon won decisively, 10-5.
The Bulldogs will travel back to Kansas on Feb. 5 to take on the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence. The match is scheduled to begin at noon.