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Drake ready for first stage of ITA All-American Championships

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Photo: Taylor Soule

The Drake men’s tennis team captured one singles title on the final day of the Drake Fall Invitational on Sunday, increasing its tally to three total titles for the weekend.

Of the five matches played by the Bulldogs on Sunday morning, only two resulted in victories. Senior captain James McKie won the only singles title of the day, as he continued his domination of the ‘F’ flight with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Eric Schuemans of Northern Colorado.

McKie, who usually plays near the top of Drake’s lineup, wasn’t tested much throughout the weekend’s singles matches, but he was pleased with the opportunity to get three wins under his belt going into this weekend’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American Championships that will take place at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla.

“This tournament was a good warm-up for next weekend in Tulsa,” McKie said. “I saw a lot of positive things from everyone on the team, and I hope we can get some good results next weekend.”

The other Bulldog posting a win on Sunday was sophomore Grant Tesmer, who was coming off a difficult loss in the semifinals of the ‘C’ flight the day before. Tesmer had multiple opportunities to serve for the match, but his Northern Colorado opponent eventually took the match in a third set tiebreaker.

“All through that night, that was going through my mind, not being able to connect those last few points,” Tesmer said. “I definitely left the tennis center with some anger and annoyance, but I knew if I had that on my shoulders the next day that it would hurt me.”

Tesmer was able to adjust his mindset for the third-place match on Sunday, and the results were night and day compared to Saturday’s semifinal. The Drake sophomore showed no signs of struggle as he cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Iowa’s Rob Trower.

“I just had to have a new mindset, I just had the mentality of ‘there is no way I’m losing twice,’” Tesmer said.

The rest of the team didn’t fare as well, as the Bulldogs dropped their finals in the ‘A’ and ‘E’ flights. In the ‘A’ flight, sophomore Ben Mullis squared off against Creighton’s Billy Paluch, who had defeated sophomore Alen Salibasic in Saturday’s semifinal match. Things looked good for Mullis and the Bulldogs at the beginning of the match, as Mullis took the first set 6-3. After the first set, the momentum shifted in favor of Paluch. Creighton’s top player took the second set 6-1 before finishing off the match in the third set 7-5.

Senior Ryan Drake, who took on Northern Illinois’ Jovan Zeljkovic in the ‘E’ flight final, wasn’t able to win his match either. After staying within striking distance in a competitive first set, Drake went on to lose the match 6-3, 6-0.

Freshman Ben Lott and junior Robin Goodman were originally set to face-off against one another in the finals of the ‘B’ flight, but Drake head coach Davidson Kozlowski chose to place Lott in a practice match against Northern Illinois’ Dor Amir, who had competed in the ‘A’ flight. Like Mullis, Lott rushed out to an early lead. Lott took the first set 6-0, but couldn’t close the match out in the second and third sets. Amir went on to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Despite capturing multiple titles throughout the event, not all the Bulldog players were thrilled with Sunday’s final matches.

“We were the best combined team at the tournament I think, and maybe Sunday was a minor reminder that we can’t take matches for granted,” Tesmer said.

Kozlowski was pleased to hear Tesmer’s competitive attitude, but overall he was pleased with his team’s performance throughout the weekend. Heading into the weekend, Kozlowski had planned on entering only Tesmer, Drake, Mullis and Lott into the tournament, but as other teams withdrew players due to injury or illness, he inserted other Drake players into the draws to ensure at least three matches per player in every flight.

“We were going with our bottom half, we were looking for the younger guys, a freshman in Ben Lott, a sophomore Ben Mullis, a sophomore in Grant Tesmer, to kind of step up, seeing how these guys are moving up, they’re playing third flight, they’re playing first flight, playing the best players from other teams and seeing how they would fare,” Kozlowski said. “Looking at it that way, they did extremely well.”

Kozlowski also talked about Tesmer’s third-place finish.

“Ben (Mullis) got to the finals of the ‘A’ flight, lost to the number one player from Creighton, so that’s a great showing,” Kozlowski said, “and for Grant (Tesmer) to come in and play that three spot and finish third was great.”

With this past weekend behind them, the Bulldogs are now focused on this weekend’s ITA All-American Championships. The four Drake players traveling to Tulsa will be McKie, Goodman, Salibasic and senior Anis Ghorbel.

McKie and Salibasic will begin their tournament in the pre-qualifying round on Saturday morning. Goodman and Ghorbel will start play two days later on Monday in the first rounds of the qualifying rounds. McKie and Ghorbel are also competing in the qualifying draw for doubles, starting Tuesday, as the team’s national ranking of No. 59 advanced them out of the pre-qualifying round. The main draw will begin on Thursday, Oct. 4.

To advance from the pre-qualifying to the qualifying round, a player will have to win three rounds. To advance from the qualifying draw into the main draw, a player will have to win another three rounds. Only the top 48 players in the country compete in the main draw, and the pre-qualifying, qualifying and main draws represent the top 256 players throughout all of Division I college tennis.

“This is the largest, most prestigious fall tournament of the year, and these are the top players in the country,” Kozlowski said. “You won’t find higher competition all in one place than you will at the ITA All-Americans.”

McKie and Ghorbel, who are carrying a national ranking of No. 87 going into the tournament, are especially motivated to do well, as this is their final fall season for the Bulldogs.

“I’m setting my goals high as this is my last year, and want to make sure I have absolutely no regrets,” McKie said.

Kozlowski is confident that all four of his players going to the All-Americans will put in a strong performance this weekend.

“I’m confident in our level and in the training we have been doing, that we are going to go and everyone is going to have a good showing,” Kozlowski said.

Check back with The Times-Delphic on Monday for a full review of McKie and Salibasic’s results at the ITA All-American Championships.

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