When I was given the opportunity to cast my vote for The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year, I knew immediately that my nominee would be coming from the men’s tennis team. How could it not? The Drake men’s tennis team has been the best team on campus this year. It has held a national ranking all season, achieving a ranking as high as No. 39 in the nation after tallying wins over DePaul, Nebraska, Iowa and Marquette.
My vote for Drake Athlete of the Year hasn’t had a national ranking in singles and he hasn’t gone on a 30-match win streak like sophomore Robin Goodman, but he has my vote because his stellar performance this year has played an integral role in Drake’s 20-plus win season. I’m voting for junior James McKie.
Oddly enough, McKie started off his 2012 season with a loss to Illinois State’s Skip Span at the No. 3 position in the Missouri Valley Conference Individuals Tournament. Earlier this year I spoke with head coach Evan Austin about McKie’s initial loss to Span. He said the loss to Span set the tone for the rest of McKie’s season. He could no longer be content to sit behind the baseline and grind it out against players. Austin said that if he could be aggressive and force his game onto his opponent that he could beat almost anyone. Months later, McKie is still busy doing just that.
In Drake’s first match of the season against No. 66 DePaul, the squad was facing a 0-2 deficit after losing the doubles point and junior Jean Erasmus’ match at the second singles position. Who was there to begin the rally for Drake? McKie. He beat his opponent 6-3, 6-2 to put some life back into the Bulldogs, who eventually ended up winning the match 4-2.
Another win that sticks out is the match against No. 38 Nebraska. Drake had won the doubles point against the Huskers, but Ghorbel, Erasmus and freshman Ben Mullis had all lost their first sets. Who was there to stop Nebraska’s comeback attempt? McKie. He absolutely dismantled his opponent, 6-0, 6-1, at the third singles spot to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 2-0. Drake eventually clinched the match at 4-1 and brought a 4-3 victory back home to Des Moines. That just so happened to be Drake’s first win over a Top 40 team. Ever.
The final reason I have for nominating McKie for this award is that his success has been a bit of a surprise. I’ve been watching McKie since his freshman year, and it is obvious that he is a gifted athlete. But I wasn’t sure when he would make that next step in his tennis career at Drake. He was named to the MVC All-Select Team his first two seasons in singles, but he had never been named All-Conference. Now, I can say without a doubt that McKie has gotten over the hump that has kept him away from All-MVC honors, and he will be All-MVC this year. It’s just a matter of if the conference gives it to him at the second or third position.
When the Bulldogs are in need of a win, McKie has been there to give them one in straight sets. He is the glue that keeps this team together in the tight matches, and that is why he is The Times-Delphic Athlete of the Year.