Bulldogs dominate first spring test, win 8 individual titles
Photo: Taylor Soule
There is no other way to describe No. 67 Drake’s performance on Sunday during the final day of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Individuals at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center. The Bulldogs entered their matches with a chance to win as many as nine titles out of a possible 10 tournaments. Of the nine titles, the Drake men won a record-tying eight.
The Bulldogs started the day with all three of their doubles pairings competing in the semifinals, and a little over an hour later, all three duos advanced to the finals of their respective draws. Drake’s first title came at the second doubles position, where sophomore Robin Goodman and freshman Alen Salibasic dominated Illinois State to earn an 8-3 victory.
Junior Anis Ghorbel and senior Cesar Bracho, who were playing as a doubles team for the first time, took the third flight doubles title over Wichita State in similar fashion to their younger Bulldog counterparts with an 8-4 score.
“Bracho is a very good teammate to play with,” Ghorbel said. “Despite not playing doubles matches with each other before, we didn’t have any problem connecting with each other on the court.”
As impressive as the doubles titles were, it was at singles where the Bulldogs truly shined. With what could end up being the starting lineup at the first through sixth singles positions, Drake thoroughly outplayed its opponents, as not a single match went to a third set.
At the top singles position, No. 51 Ghorbel battled against a familiar opponent in Alexander Pelaez of Illinois State. Ghorbel and Pelaez are considered by many to be the top two players in the conference, and the first set was indicative of that sentiment, as neither player was able to pull away from the other. As the first set entered into a tiebreaker, it was Pelaez who garnered the first set point, only to have Ghorbel fight it off with his signature booming forehands as the Bulldog took the first set 7-6 (8-6). From then on the match changed, as Pelaez looked frustrated and exhausted after failing to capture the first set, but Ghorbel only grew more aggressive and more accurate as the set went on. At 3-0 in the second set, Ghorbel hit a shot that left Pelaez literally sliding out of his own shoes.
“After (sliding out of his shoe), Pelaez was getting very mad, so I knew I just had to keep playing solid to finish him off,” Ghorbel said.
Ghorbel went on to finish the match at 7-6, 6-0.
Jean Erasmus’ match at the second singles position was no less impressive. After winning the first set 6-3, Erasmus kicked it into a completely different gear, as he registered a 6-0 second-set win. This was Erasmus’ second MVC Individuals title in singles. Last year he won at the No. 3 position.
James McKie was in contention for the title at the third singles slot, and it looked like it would be the toughest match of the day for the Bulldogs. McKie was faced with the challenge of taking on Illinois State’s Skip Span, the same player who had beaten him just two days earlier in a grueling three-set match. Unfortunately for Span, the McKie he faced last Friday was not like the one he met in the finals. The Drake captain exploded out of the gates against Span, playing a much more aggressive and consistent game than he had before. As Span tried to make advances, McKie held his ground. A mix of powerful forehands from the baseline and crafty attacks at the net frustrated Span, and McKie made the rematch look routine with a 6-2, 6-1 score.
“I definitely played more aggressively on Sunday, and this time I managed to get more points off my serve,” McKie said.
Salibasic played powerful tennis against Wichita State’s Tomislav Gregurovic. Gregurovic, a familiar opponent of Salibasic’s from the junior circuit in Europe, attempted to match the Drake freshman’s power in both serves and ground-strokes, but Salibasic’s booming service game proved hard to break. The two opponents decided the first set in a tiebreaker, and it was the Bulldog who proved victorious. Salibasic continued to fire away and won the second set 6-4.
After dominating Illinois State’s Willi Peter in doubles, Goodman looked to do the same at the fifth singles position. In a match that saw both players attack the net, it was Goodman’s mix of touch and power that earned a 6-3, 6-2 win to capture his first MVC Individuals title in singles.
Drake’s eighth and final title came at the sixth singles position, where senior Jonathan Hadash was locked into an intense battle with Bradley’s Eric Nguyen. Both players were firing powerful ground-strokes at each other, but it was Hadash who was more consistent on the biggest points of the match. Hadash took home his first MVC Individuals title with a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
The Bulldogs begin their dual-match season this weekend as they travel to Harvard, Mass., for the two-day Harvard Invitational. Drake’s first match is against No. 66 DePaul. The Blue Demons may be the most dangerous opponent at the invitational, as they have already knocked off a ranked opponent.
Drake’s next match will be against No. 73 Harvard. The host Crimson will be kicking off its dual-match season this weekend as well. The Bulldogs’ final opponent of the weekend will be Denver. Despite lacking a national ranking, the Pioneers are not to be taken lightly, as the team often dominates the Sun Belt conference and carried a national ranking much of last year.
“To beat ranked teams this year, we will have to compete hard at every spot,” McKie said. “I know we have so much talent on this team, so if we fight until the last point, we can be very successful.”