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The Drake men’s tennis team dominated the Missouri Valley Conference last year en route to an NCAA tournament appearance.
The Bulldogs ended their season ranked 62nd in the nation, but this year’s squad is looking to move up in the rankings by playing a difficult schedule filled with nationally ranked foes and NCAA tournament contenders.
The Bulldogs will open up their season on the road in West Lafayette, Ind., at the Purdue Fall Invitational. The Boilermakers’ tournament is from Sept. 16-18.
Head coach Evan Austin will send four players to the tournament, although the lineup has not been finalized.
“We have a number of experienced guys returning along with some real talented young guys, so there’s a lot of promise there,” Austin said.
Austin will also send four players to the courts in the Drake Fall Invitational at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center. The invite will take place from Sept. 23-25.
The next tournament on the team’s schedule is the All-American Qualifying event in Tulsa, Okla. Winners at the qualifying tournament on Oct. 1 and 2 will move on to the All-American tournament later in the season.
The final tournament of the fall season is the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Regional which features nationally ranked squads Oklahoma, Minnesota, Tulsa and Nebraska. Winners in the ITA Central Regional move on to the ITA National Championships.
Austin said that the expectations this fall are high for the Bulldogs, as last season juniors James McKie and Jean Erasmus posted wins over nationally ranked players.
“It was nice last fall to see James and Jean really step up and build their confidence level with ranked wins,” Austin said. “I’m looking for the same type of results from them and guys like Anis (Ghorbel) to continue to compete on a national level.”
The Bulldogs officially kick off their spring season after winter break with the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Individuals tournament on Jan. 20-22, but the team’s dual-matches start one week later in Cambridge, Mass.
Drake will play in the Harvard Invitational this year, which is a four-team tournament featuring No. 62 Drake, No. 72 Harvard, No. 67 DePaul and Denver, another competitive squad. The Harvard Invitational will run during Jan. 27-28.
Austin’s squad won’t be slowing down after their difficult season opener. In February alone the Bulldogs will play three nationally ranked teams: No. 58 East Tennessee State, No. 44 Nebraska and No. 55 Idaho. Only the match against East Tennessee State will be at home.
March will be an equally challenging month for the squad as it travels to No. 23 Minnesota before taking on 2011 NCAA tournament participants Sacramento State and Missouri-Kansas City at home.
McKie and senior Jonathan Hadash believe this year’s schedule is consistently filled with strong teams and that this will require the squad to bring their “A” game every week. Not only will the schedule allow Drake to potentially move up in the national rankings, but it will also be much better prepared to compete in Missouri Valley Conference play come April.
“This is my first year where I know every match we play will be tough,” McKie said. “One of the most important things is getting off to a good start in January.”