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Bulldogs brace for Butler after historic victory over Nebraska

Drake’s win over No. 38 Nebraska was more than just a win over one of the top 40 teams in the nation. It was something that no Bulldog squad had done before.

Chase Hodges’ 2007-08 Bulldog squad is arguably the best Drake tennis team in history. The Bulldogs went undefeated that year and reached a national ranking of No. 33. The difference between this year’s team and that one? The highest ranked team the 07-08 squad beat was No. 52 Minnesota.

Those who follow the Bulldogs recognize that a marquee win like this has been in the making since head coach Evan Austin arrived on Drake’s campus.

“I believe the Nebraska match was one that we have had coming for some time,” Austin said. “This was the one that really felt like we’ve put the work in, we’ve got the confidence, we’ve won the conference and we’ve been to the NCAA tournament, now we were ready to show we can beat one of the top teams in the Big Ten and a team that is always in the NCAA Tournament each year.”

Drake has always been a talented team, but the lack of big match experience posed a problem for them the last few years. This season, four of the Bulldogs’ six singles players have at least one year of college tennis under their belts, and that experience is beginning to pay off for Drake. The juniors have experienced two seasons worth of matches where they came up just short, and they are now doing everything in their power to learn from their mistakes.

“We are all better players in general, and we took a lot out of losing to No. 27 Minnesota last year,” said sophomore Robin Goodman. “We realized that teams like that are no better than us, and we have to expect to beat teams like this all the time now.”

Austin echoed Goodman’s statement, adding that this year’s players are more confident in their abilities when the match is on the line.

“When we have been playing some of those top 40 teams in the past year, we backed off a little bit in those tight situations,” Austin said. “But (last) Friday night, the guys just stepped up and took it.”

While junior Anis Ghorbel’s national singles ranking is the most visible example of the benefits of experience, the play of Goodman and junior James McKie cannot be overlooked. Goodman, who clinched the match against Nebraska, hasn’t lost a singles match so far this spring and is quite possibly the most consistent player on the team.

“Robin is one of those guys where if a match is at 3-all, you want him out there,” said Austin. “He is so good under pressure, and I couldn’t have picked a better guy to have out there to close out a big match like that for us.”

McKie has always been a solid singles player for the Bulldogs, garnering several All-MVC laurels in his freshman and sophomore years, but if the start of the season is any indication, McKie may be headed for first team All-MVC honors. The biggest change isn’t in the Scotsman’s swings or footwork but in his head.

“After the first match in the MVC Individuals Tournament (in January), James (McKie) found where he needs to be mentally to play his best tennis,” said Austin. “You can tell he has a plan out there, is confident in it, and it is going to take a guy’s best effort to beat him.

“He is playing some of the best tennis I’ve seen him play,” Austin added.

Although the singles play of the Bulldogs garners the most attention, it is their doubles play that has improved the most since last season.

“We thought our doubles hurt us a lot last year when we played Iowa and Minnesota.” Austin said. “The guys felt the pain of losing a couple close matches where if we would have won the doubles point, we probably would have won the match.“

One of the biggest factors that has contributed to the newfound doubles success is the increase in depth throughout the entire team. With more than six players capable and ready to contribute, Austin has been able to try a number of different pairings at each spot, and it seems he has found his teams for the long haul.

“The biggest thing is that our guys now realize how important our doubles (are) in each match,” he said. “We come out with a greater sense of urgency, and now that we have won some big matches, we have the confidence when we are stuck in tight situations.”

The Bulldogs will have to keep improving at doubles throughout the season if they want to continue to knock off the nation’s best teams and return to the NCAA Tournament. Austin said that each of the nation’s top teams fields a strong singles lineup, so the doubles point becomes all that much more important.

“Everyone in the top 40 is very solid in singles,” he said. “I think we have the depth to win four of the six singles matches, but it certainly makes life easier when you only have to win three of them.”

With a new and improved national ranking surely on the way, the Bulldogs are looking to keep their winning streak alive as they take on the Butler Bulldogs this Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Roger Knapp Tennis Center.

“I think the Nebraska win will be huge for our confidence to finally get over that hump against strong teams,” Austin said, “but we need to get back to work and not rest on our laurels.”


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  1. Busquatchy February 23, 2012

    Evan Austin is turning Drake tennis around; best of luck to Austin and his Drake squad!

  2. Nancy Austin February 24, 2012

    What a great article about a great team. Hopefully all the hard work and dedication will lead to even more wins in the coming weeks. Go Bulldogs!

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