The No. 49 Drake Bulldogs travel to Omaha, Neb., on Friday, April 27 to partake in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, where the winner will earn an automatic bid into the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
Only 64 teams earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Although the Bulldogs are currently ranked as one of the Top 50 teams in the nation, head coach Evan Austin’s squad goes into the conference tournament looking to lock up its second-straight tournament title while erasing any doubts that they have earned a spot in the NCAA championship.
The Bulldogs enter the MVC Championships with their second consecutive season posting 20 wins or more and carrying a national ranking. Drake is considered the favorite to win the tournament, but it will most likely have to go through the Wichita State Shockers to earn the title. If both teams end up making it to the final, it will be a rematch of last year’s championship match, which saw the Bulldogs battle to a 4-0 victory.
This year’s Shockers won’t be intimidated by Drake’s national ranking, as the Shockers have played five nationally ranked teams this season and even garnered a national ranking of their own. The Shockers were ranked as high as No. 62 in the nation this season, but their only win over a ranked team came over then-No. 65 Southern Mississippi. The Bulldogs can’t afford to rest on their laurels though, as the Shockers were a few matches away from beating the No. 43 Arkansas Razorbacks in March.
Wichita State is led by Matheus Pereira and David Cavalcanti. Pereira is the top singles player for the Shockers, with Cavalcanti taking charge of the second spot. Wins at these two spots will be the key for Drake’s success in the tournament, as these two players are in close consideration for All-Conference honors at their positions. In last season’s championship match, Drake’s Anis Ghorbel beat Pereira 6-3, 6-2 at the second singles position. Cavalcanti competed at the third singles position last year, so he faced off against Drake’s Jean Erasmus, but the Bulldogs had already clinched the match before either player could claim victory.
Besides being exceptional singles players for the Shockers, Pereira and Cavalcanti may be even more talented at doubles. Drake’s top doubles team, James McKie and Ghorbel, will have its hands full, as the two Shockers combine to form one of the best doubles teams in the Valley. The Shocker duo held a national ranking during much of the year due to its run to the quarterfinals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American tournament.
Wichita State isn’t the only team that will challenge the Bulldogs for the MVC title, though. Despite losing to Drake 6-1 during the regular season, the Illinois State Redbirds are capable of being a dark-horse candidate for the title. The Redbirds have one of the best doubles teams in the conference in Alexander Pelaez and Tuomas Manner, and that pair could lead to Illinois State winning the doubles point against any team in the Missouri Valley.
In singles, the Redbirds are a young team but they have a number of left-handed players who can disrupt the flow of any match. In addition to that, Pelaez is one of the best singles players in the conference. By beating Ghorbel in a third-set super tiebreaker in the regular season, Pelaez made himself the likely favorite in the running for the MVC Player of the Year award.
The remaining teams in the draw are Southern Illinois, Bradley and Creighton, but there is little evidence from the regular season that suggests any of those teams would be capable of reaching the final, let alone a win to move them into the NCAA Tournament.