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Drake shuts out Nebraska-Kearney for second straight win

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The Drake men’s tennis team continued its dominant play over opening weekend with a 7-0 victory against the University of Nebraska-Kearney Lopers.

The Lopers, a Division II team, were picked to finish second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. They were no match for the Bulldogs at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center this past Sunday.

Head coach Evan Austin once again changed his doubles lineup for the dual match, this time due to freshman Robin Goodman sitting out after sustaining a neck injury during his match against the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Junior Sean O’Grady stepped in for Goodman in the doubles lineup, pairing up with sophomore James McKie in the third doubles slot. McKie is usually paired with Goodman at the second doubles position, but the change in the lineup proved to be a strong suit for the Bulldogs.

O’Grady and McKie dominated at the third position, posting an 8-0 victory in less than half an hour against Josh Smith and Rodrigo Duncan of Kearney. O’Grady showed no signs of nerves despite being moved into the lineup at the last minute.

“I wanted to be ready whether I would play or not play,” he said.

The doubles match at the first slot played out almost the same way, as senior Mauricio Ballivian and sophomore Anis Ghorbel teamed up together to deliver a dominant performance. The beginning of the match was close, but the Bulldogs eventually pulled away, capturing an 8-2 victory.

The second doubles match was a bit different, though. Sophomores Ryan Drake and Jean Erasmus were together again for this tight match. The Lopers took the Bulldog duo the distance, but Drake found a way to win 8-6. After the match, Austin replaced Erasmus in the singles lineup due to some discomfort in the sophomore’s bicep. The injury, although not serious, was a precautionary measure that Austin felt he could afford after seeing the strong play by the rest of the lineup.

With both Goodman and Erasmus sitting out of singles play, the lineup had to be altered slightly. Ballivian and McKie still played first and second singles, respectively, but the other players moved up one or more slots. Ghorbel, who usually plays at the fourth slot, moved up to take Erasmus’ spot at third singles. Junior Jonathan Hadash, who usually plays at sixth singles, moved up to the fourth position to take Goodman’s spot. The rest of the lineup was filled by O’Grady and Drake at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.

Similar to the doubles matches, the Bulldogs had relatively no problems in routing the Lopers in singles play.

Ballivian avenged his Saturday loss against UMKC with a routine 6-2, 6-2 victory over Josh Raymond of Kearney. The lone senior practiced new shots and patterns to expand his arsenal, something that will come in handy later in the season against nationally ranked opponents on teams such as Iowa and Minnesota.

“I tried new things in my match, like coming to the net more often and hit my backhand down the line,” Ballivian said. “This game helped us to build confidence.”

At second singles, McKie experienced solid defiance from Kearney’s Yeswanth Nadella in the first set, but the Drake sophomore was able to take the set 6-4. McKie never relinquished the momentum in the second set, posting a 6-1 score to earn the win.

Sunday’s match was the first time Ghorbel played at the third singles slot, and he performed admirably, crushing Duncan 6-1, 6-0.

Hadash, who had experience at the fourth slot last spring, followed Ghorbel’s trend of dominance as he defeated Kearney’s Kyle Conzemius 6-2, 6-0 off the strength of his crushing groundstrokes.

O’Grady played at the fifth position in what was his first singles dual match at the Division I level, and his consistency from the baseline granted him a 6-1, 6-3 victory over John Steinke.

“My goal was just to play my best and work on aspects of my game that I thought need improvement,” O’Grady said. “My backhand has been hurting me recently, but I felt I really stepped up and am hitting through the ball which is what I needed to work on most.”

Ryan Drake’s match at the sixth position was close as the Lopers nearly won a set, but Drake’s play in the first set tiebreaker not only earned the set, but the momentum as well. After winning the first set 7-6, Drake ran through the second set 6-1.

The Bulldogs’ next match is against the University of Central Florida on Feb. 12 in Bloomington, Ind., a day before taking on Butler.

Drake’s next home match isn’t until Feb. 20 when they take on the University of Illinois at Chicago and Graceland in a doubleheader at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.

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