Photo: Taylor Soule
Drake kicked off its dual-match campaign this past weekend at the Harvard Kick-Off Invitational in Cambridge, Mass. The Bulldogs entered the weekend riding a wave of momentum, as head coach Evan Austin’s squad was coming off a record-tying performance at the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Individuals Tournament.
The No. 67 Bulldogs’ first opponent was the No. 66 Blue Demons of DePaul University. The Blue Demons entered the invitational with an undefeated record highlighted by a win over the No. 64 Purdue Boilermakers, and as the doubles matches began, it looked like DePaul was en route to maintaining its perfect record.
Juniors James McKie and Jean Erasmus teamed up once again at the first doubles slot, but they were unable to overcome George Chanturia and Filip Dzanko of DePaul, as the Blue Demons registered the first victory, 8-3.
The next doubles match to finish was at the third position, where sophomore Robin Goodman and freshman Alen Salibasic took on Aaron Chaffee and Matija Palinic of DePaul. The match remained close throughout, but the Drake duo fell 8-6, granting DePaul the lone doubles point.
As the singles matches progressed, the Bulldogs found themselves in an even deeper hole, as Erasmus lost his match at the second singles position 6-1, 6-2. With DePaul within striking distance of taking the match, it was junior Anis Ghorbel who sparked the Bulldogs’ comeback.
No. 51 Ghorbel demolished Chanturia of DePaul 6-3, 6-2. With Drake finally on the board, things started looking up for the Bulldogs. By the time Ghorbel finished his match, three of his teammates had already captured the first set of their matches and were quickly closing in on the win.
The next to finish was McKie at the third singles slot, where the junior continued his dominant play that he displayed the previous weekend in capturing the MVC individuals crown in the third singles draw. McKie evened the match at 2-2 with his 6-3, 6-2 victory.
At this point, the Bulldogs were on a roll, and it was Goodman who pushed the score to 3-2 in Drake’s favor. Despite falling to DePaul’s Chaffee in doubles, Goodman was able to capture a 6-1, 7-5 victory in singles.
The match now fell into the hands of Drake’s freshmen. The newest addition to the team, Ben Mullis, had just joined the team this semester and was playing in his first match in Drake blue. Mullis immediately proved to be an excellent pickup, as the freshman from England sealed the match for the Bulldogs at the sixth singles position with a 6-3, 6-2 win over DePaul’s Adam Reinhart.
“It was a good start to the season to get our first win over a ranked opponent,” said McKie, “but our goal is to beat even better teams than DePaul.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to beat a second nationally ranked team in just as many days when they went up against the No. 73 Harvard Crimson last Friday night and Saturday morning.
The dual match began on Friday night, as the two teams played the doubles portion of the match. At the top doubles slot, McKie and Erasmus had the unfortunate task of going up against No. 45 Alistair Felton and Casey MacMaster of Harvard. The duo ended up dropping the match 8-4, but soon thereafter, Drake struck back.
Goodman and Salibasic registered an 8-4 victory to take out Denis Nguyen and Alex Steinroeder at the third doubles spot, which evened the match at 1-1, leaving the doubles point to be decided by Ghorbel and Mullis at the second slot.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Drake duo lost the set 8-6, and therefore was at a 0-1 disadvantage heading into singles play on Saturday.
A little over 12 hours later, the two teams were on the court once more, this time for the six singles matches. Ghorbel quickly evened the score by winning his match 6-1, 6-4 at the first singles position.
The Bulldogs looked to almost be in control of the match, as Goodman and Salibasic each took the first set in their matches while McKie and Erasmus were battling it out in close first sets.
“We got off to a great start,” McKie said. “But then we lost our momentum, and they got on top of us.”
Harvard took a 3-1 lead after Mullis lost 6-2, 6-4 to Harvard’s Shaun Chaudhuri at the sixth position, and Erasmus lost 7-5, 6-1 to Henry Steer at the third.
The match ended for the Bulldogs when Steinroeder defeated Salibasic in three sets, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“Harvard is a good team, and it’s always harder to beat the home team,” McKie said. “But this was a winnable match, and I am confident we will be winning these kind of matches in the future.”
After losing the doubles point in the last two matches, Austin decided to switch up his lineup for the match against the Denver Pioneers Saturday. Joining McKie at the first position was Ghorbel, with senior Cesar Bracho joining Salibasic at the second slot. Mullis teamed up with Goodman to form the third doubles team.
The singles lineup also changed. Ghorbel and McKie stayed at the first and second singles spots, respectively, with Salibasic, Goodman, and Mullis each moving up a spot. Senior Jonathan Hadash rounded out the lineup at the sixth singles position.
Goodman was the first Bulldog to finish, as his 6-3, 6-2 win gave Drake a 2-0 advantage.
Drake then pushed its lead to 3-0 after Hadash easily dispatched his opponent, 6-4, 6-1. McKie was defeated at the second singles slot, but soon thereafter, Mullis clinched his second match of the tournament to give the Bulldogs a 4-1 victory.
Drake leaves Cambridge with a 2-1 record on the season, including its first win over a nationally ranked opponent since 2009. The Bulldogs look to continue their winning ways as they take on Western Illinois and Chicago State on Saturday at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.