Photos: Taylor Soule
Drake began Missouri Valley Conference play with a bang last Saturday morning, as the No. 46 Bulldogs dismantled the Creighton Bluejays 7-0. On a cold, dreary morning that never saw the temperature above 60 degrees, Drake grabbed the momentum right at the beginning of the match and didn’t relinquish it for the next three hours.
The Bluejays are best known for their competitive doubles play, as their team features a number of players who are often found crashing the net, but the Bulldogs were able to completely shut down their ability to do so on Saturday morning.
Senior Cesar Bracho and freshman Alen Salibasic led the charge for Drake, as the duo easily defeated Sean Mathison and Ryan Norman of Creighton, 8-3.
“We played one of the best matches we have played so far this season,” Bracho said. “We came with a lot of intensity and good energy and were hitting our shots just like we have been doing in practice. “
The dominating doubles play continued at the top spot as well, where juniors James McKie and Anis Ghorbel defeated Creighton’s Billy Paluch and Kyle Obermeier 8-4. Like Bracho and Salibasic, the pair got out to an early lead and never looked back.
“In doubles, we got an early two-break lead, and we just kept being on offense and aggressive the whole time,” Ghorbel said.
Sophomore Robin Goodman and junior Jean Erasmus made it a clean sweep of doubles as they took out Elliott Baker and JT Christian 8-5.
The Bulldogs kept powering through in singles play as well, led by McKie’s quick 6-2, 6-1 win over J.T. Christian. Creighton’s Christian attempted to attack the net against the Drake junior, which led to some success this fall season against Drake’s Erasmus, but McKie’s stellar movement and tight passing shots continued to frustrate his Bluejay opponent.
After McKie’s win, the floodgates opened for the Bulldogs, with three matches finishing within minutes of each other.
Senior Jonathan Hadash pushed Drake’s lead to 3-0 with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Creighton’s Gabe Nagy. After trailing 0-3 in the first set, Hadash found his range and won the next 12 games.
Salibasic clinched the match for the Bulldogs with a decisive 6-3, 6-4 win over Mathison. Minutes later, Ghorbel concluded his match against Paluch, winning 6-1, 6-1.
“I knew that Paluch is pretty good, and I had to be ready out there on the court,” Ghorbel said. “I felt like I was in control the whole match today.”
Freshman Ben Mullis then moved Drake’s tally to 6-0 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Baker. Drake’s last win of the day came from Erasmus, who had to fight through a close first set against Creighton’s Obermeier. After winning the first set 6-4, the Drake junior easily captured the second 6-2.
“Overall, today was a great way for us to start off conference play,” McKie said. “Even in the chilly conditions, we came out ready to play.”
Drake will hit the road next weekend to travel to Illinois to take on Bradley and Illinois State. The Bulldogs will face the Bradley Braves on Friday afternoon in Peoria before traveling 40 miles east to Normal to take on the Redbirds of Illinois State on Saturday.
Despite a 6-8 record, head coach Evan Austin said that the Redbirds aren’t a team to overlook in the MVC race. Although No. 73 Wichita State is seen as Drake’s main competition for the conference title, Illinois State has shown improvement throughout the season.
“Illinois State has some talented young guys who are playing much better now, so we’ll need to be ready for everyone we play,” Austin said.