Photo: Connor McCourtney
On Sunday, Drake posted an extraordinary 6-1 win over the Illinois State Redbirds and sent a message to the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference: If you want to win the conference title, you will have to go through the No. 63 Drake Bulldogs to do so.
The win was Drake’s 11th straight victory, which gave the team a perfect 8-0 record at home to go along with a 9-2 record on the road. Combined with the win against Bradley last Saturday, the weekend’s victories moved the Bulldogs up nine spaces in the national rankings.
After recognizing senior Mauricio Ballivian’s achievements in a special senior day ceremony on the court, the Bulldogs began Sunday’s match with brutal efficiency at doubles.
Ballivian and sophomore Anis Ghorbel, once again, led the way at the top spot with a routine 8-1 dispatching of Alexander Pelaez and Timon Reichelt of Illinois State. The duo defeated the same team earlier this season to earn the Missouri Valley Conference Individuals title in doubles.
Sophomores Jean Erasmus and James McKie brought an uncanny amount of raw energy into their match at second doubles, as the duo rushed out to a 7-3 lead before sealing the match at 8-5 against Tuomas Manner and Matej Zlatkovic.
With the doubles point already won in favor of the Bulldogs, the squad looked to make a clean sweep in doubles with a victory from freshman Robin Goodman and junior Cesar Bracho. After trailing much of the match, Goodman and Bracho were able to fight back to pull within match-point in the tiebreaker. The Drake duo was unable to convert their lone match point, though, and the Redbird duo of Mya Smith-Dennis and Filip Miljevic prevailed 8-7.
Nonetheless, it was the Bulldogs who carried the momentum into singles play as they looked to quickly expand their 1-0 lead. At the top position, it was a battle of MVC Co-Players of the Year, as Ballivian and Reichelt shared the honor last season. Empowered by a crowd cheering him on during his last home match, Ballivian played his best tennis of the spring season. Ballivian didn’t let his opponent find rhythm or focus, and the senior from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, put Drake up 2-0 with a workman-like 6-1, 6-0 win. If Ballivian can continue his stellar play throughout the remainder of the season and conference tournament, he will be a likely candidate for player of the year once again.
“Every tennis player looks to have days like this where you play your best tennis,” Ballivian said.
The Redbirds took the next match with a victory over Drake’s Bracho, but the Bulldogs refused to let the match get any closer. In a quick response to the loss at the sixth singles spot, it was Goodman who moved Drake one match closer to victory with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Manner.
“I’ve played him twice before, and he beat me both times,” Goodman said. “I knew he didn’t hit very many winners and wasn’t very aggressive, so I just had to make a lot of balls to start out with.”
The Bulldogs claimed victory off of a grueling straight-set win by McKie at the third singles position. The Drake sophomore overcame an incredibly persistent opponent in Miljevic to win 7-5, 7-5. After winning the final point, McKie let out the same audible roar that was heard from his court throughout the day.
As the Drake players congratulated McKie on court 3, Ghorbel and Erasmus closed out their matches on courts 2 and 4, respectively. Ghorbel played his best tennis of his Drake career as he dispatched Pelaez, last year’s MVC Freshman of the Year. Ghorbel’s powerful groundstrokes caused problems for the speedy Redbird, as the Drake sophomore posted a 7-6, 6-4 win.
“I fought so hard to play my best tennis and to stay focused,” Ghorbel said. “With the good players, you know you have to play your best tennis.”
Erasmus made it a 6-1 victory for the Bulldogs with his 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Zlatkovic.
“The one difference between our team and their team today was we were a little bit tougher,” head coach Evan Austin said. “That comes from the work we put in, and it comes from our guys getting together and really wanting this.”
Ballivian believed that all of the Bulldogs stepped up their level of play for this match, and that it will be something they will have to continue to do here on out if they want to win the conference championship to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We showed we are a team that fights with heart,” he said.
Drake will travel to Carbondale, Ill., this Sunday for a matchup with the Southern Illinois Salukis. The match is one of two remaining conference tilts before the State Farm MVC Championship over Relays weekend.
Drake came back strong from last Saturday’s loss with a dominant 6-1 win on Sunday afternoon against the Bradley Braves. The Bulldogs dealt the Braves their fourth loss in conference play. The win was Drake’s first in the MVC this season.
The Bulldogs began with an immediate advantage over the Braves, as Bradley failed to field a third doubles team for competition, giving the Bulldogs the match at third doubles by default. With the cards already in their favor, the Bulldogs looked to take advantage of their opponent’s weakened roster.
Juniors Amanda Aragon and Jessica Aguilera dominated their competitors with a quick 8-3 victory at second doubles. Junior Gabby Demos and sophomore Manca Krizman also pushed to a comfortable 8-5 victory at the top spot.
The Bulldogs’ 1-0 lead was extended to 2-0 at the beginning of singles play, as the Braves failed to present a competitor at sixth singles, which was therefore forfeited to sophomore Ali Patterson. The Drake squad quickly clinched the victory as freshman Klavdija Rebol and junior Earlynn Lauer both won in straight sets. Rebol won 6-0, 6-2 to bring the lead to 3-0, while Lauer clinched the victory with a 6-2, 6-2 win.
Drake’s only loss of the day came at second singles, as Demos couldn’t convert when the match went into a third set super-tiebreaker. On the other hand, Krizman was able to take the match at the top spot with a victory in the third set super-tiebreaker.
The Bulldogs will return home this weekend for a Saturday match against the Evansville Purple Aces. The match begins at 1 p.m. in the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.
Drake sweeps weekly awards
Senior Mauricio Ballivian and sophomore Manca Krizman both received MVC Player of the Week honors on Tuesday. Both players have led the Bulldogs all season at the top singles and doubles slots, and both displayed their dominance last week. Ballivian won the award for the eighth time in his career and was the fifth Bulldog to garner the honor this season. Ballivian pounded defending conference champion Illinois State’s top player on Sunday in a 6-1, 6-0 rout. Krizman earned player of the week for the first time in her career and became the third Drake women’s player to receive the honor this season. Krizman won her fifth-straight singles match on Sunday against Bradley.