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Drake men shut out NIU for ninth-straight win

Photo: Connor McCourtney

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Drake beat the Northern Illinois Huskies by a score of 7-0 on Sunday, pushing the Bulldogs’ undefeated streak to nine-straight matches and putting them back into the ITA national rankings at No. 72.

Drake started off strong, as the squad lost only one game in all three doubles matches combined. At the top doubles position was senior Mauricio Ballivian and sophomore Anis Ghorbel. The duo was the first off the court with a hasty 8-0 win.

Sophomores James McKie and Jean Erasmus clinched the doubles point for the Bulldogs with an 8-0 victory. Junior Cesar Bracho and freshman Robin Goodman rounded out the opening half of the match by recording an 8-1 win.

The Bulldogs carried their dominance into singles as well, where they captured routine wins at the sixth, fifth and fourth singles positions. Bracho, who had lost his first singles match of the season last Saturday, regained his composure and dismissed his opponent at the sixth spot 6-1, 6-0. Goodman soon followed with an equally dominant display of shot making, as the freshman put Drake up 3-0 with his 6-0, 6-3 win.

Erasmus clinched the match for the Bulldogs with his victory at the fourth singles position. Erasmus, who has played as high as second singles this season, dominated his opponent on his way to a 6-1, 6-4 result.

The Huskies featured three solid players at the first, second and third singles positions. McKie was able to defeat his opponent in straight sets with a 6-4, 6-4 victory, but it was Ballivian and Ghorbel who were put to the test. Ballivian failed to capture the opening set, as his opponent took it 6-3. But in typical Ballivian fashion, Drake’s lone senior captured the momentum for the deciding two sets as he won 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Ghorbel was also pushed to the limit in his match, as he, too, lost the first set. Ghorbel lost the tiebreaker 5-7 in the first set, but he was able to turn the match around in the second. The Drake sophomore was able to take the second set 6-2, but the third wasn’t as easy. After his opponent fended off match-points, Ghorbel was finally able to finish the match with a score of 12-10 in the third set super tiebreaker.

Despite the lopsided score, head coach Evan Austin felt that Northern Illinois was a good test for the team as it enters conference play. He said that the Huskies are a tricky team for anyone to play due to their strength at the top of the lineup.

“We were stronger at the bottom,” Austin said. “And it was nice to keep our focus at the top of the lineup.”

The team returns home this weekend for two conference matches. The Bulldogs take on the Bradley Braves on Saturday at noon. On Sunday they host Illinois State at 11 a.m. in Ballivian’s final home match as a Bulldog.

“Now our focus is 100 percent on the conference matches,” Ballivian said. “We are coming with a lot of confidence and a win-win attitude.”

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The Northern Iowa Panthers ended the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak on Sunday as Drake fell to its in-state rivals by a score of 5-2.

The Bulldogs had opportunities to win the match, but the Panthers were just too strong throughout their lineup. Drake’s slow start at doubles gave Northern Iowa a quick advantage, as junior Amanda Aragon and senior Jessica Labarte were defeated 8-1 at the third doubles spot. Junior Jess Aguilera and sophomore Manca Krizman came closer to victory at the top doubles position, but it was UNI who captured the win 8-5.

Even though the team had lost the doubles point, junior Gabby Demos and freshman Klavdija Rebol were able to retain some momentum with an 8-7 win at the second doubles slot.

The Panthers looked to close the match against Drake quickly. After Aguilera lost her match at fourth singles, it was Drake who evened the score at 2-2. Krizman once again showed her ability to defeat UNI’s best as she won 6-4, 6-4. Rebol then dispatched her opponent in three sets, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The Bulldogs looked to be making a comeback as Demos took her opponent to a third set, but UNI was able to close out the match as Demos lost 4-6, 6-4, 1-6. The Panthers closed out the match with straight set wins over Labarte and Aragon at the fifth and sixth singles slots, respectively.

Drake’s next match will be against Illinois State this Saturday in Normal, Ill.

Men crack ITA rankings again

The red-hot Bulldogs are back in the national spotlight, earning a No. 72 ranking in the latest ITA poll released on Tuesday. Drake has won nine straight matches to move its record to 15-2. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 71 on March 22, but were dropped from the rankings the next week despite not losing a match. Maybe the ITA poll voters learned their lesson this time and hopefully won’t make the same mistake twice.

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