Story by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Morgan Dezenski
The No. 41 Drake men’s tennis team traveled west to Lincoln, Neb., this past weekend where it picked up two impressive wins to push its record to 7-1 on the season. Drake defeated both the Nebraska Huskers and the No. 30 VCU Rams, with the latter being the Bulldogs’ most impressive win so far this season.
The Bulldogs started off their weekend against unranked Nebraska on the Huskers’ home court, and they soon found themselves in an unexpected battle.
“They were a good team,” said senior James McKie. “We definitely underestimated them at first.”
Carrying a Top-50 national ranking, the Bulldogs were the favorite to win the match against their Big 10 rivals, but Nebraska looked to be the superior team in doubles play. The Huskers swept all three doubles positions to earn the lone doubles point, taking a 1-0 advantage over the rattled Bulldogs.
“It was a very tough environment to play in as well, a lot of fans that were loud and in your face, and it was sometimes hard to stay focused,” McKie said.
Once singles play began, though, Drake looked to hold the advantage. The momentum shifted in Drake’s favor after senior Jean Erasmus blitzed Nebraska’s Sebastian Florczyk 6-1, 6-2 at the fifth singles position.
“I can take a lot of confidence out of this match knowing that I played some of my best tennis,” Erasmus said after the match.
Senior Anis Ghorbel soon gave the Bulldogs’ their first lead of the day, as his 6-4, 6-4 win over Andre Stenger at the top singles slot put Drake up 2-1. McKie, the final senior on court for the Bulldogs, also posted a straight sets win, which pushed the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1.
The final three Bulldogs on the court were junior Robin Goodman, sophomore Alen Salibasic and sophomore Ben Mullis. All three Drake players were in a decisive third set, meaning the Huskers still had a chance at earning an upset. Goodman soon put an end to that notion though, as his 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 clinched the match for Drake. Nebraska won the final two matches, but the Bulldogs left with a 4-3 victory.
“It was a really good team win for us,” Erasmus said. “After losing the doubles point, all the guys fought hard to get four of the six singles.”
Drake had no time to rest, though, as the Bulldogs faced off against the No. 30 Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday. VCU is the highest ranked team Drake has faced so far this season.
Unlike the match against Nebraska, the Bulldogs excelled in doubles play against the Rams. Ghorbel and McKie teamed up once again at the top spot to post an 8-3 win against Claes Goransson and Alexis Heugas. Goodman and Salibasic earned Drake the doubles point after they defeated Michael Voscek and Max Wennakowski 8-5. Mullis and Erasmus lost their match at the third spot, 8-4.
Despite having a 1-0 lead, singles play did not start out well for the Bulldogs. Tied at 5-5 in the first set, Erasmus pulled out of his match due to injury. With the match now tied at 1-1, two of Drake’s younger players stepped up to increase the lead.
Salibasic and Goodman made quick work of their opponents, with Goodman winning 6-2, 6-1 over Alejandro Argente at the third position while Salibasic won 6-4, 6-1 over Goransson at the fourth position.
With the Bulldogs up 3-1, VCU started to mount its comeback. Wennakowski topped Ghorbel at the top singles position, and Jaime Vazquez defeated Mullis at the sixth singles slot to tie the match at 3-3. Only McKie remained on the court.
McKie, who is ranked No. 68 nationally, was in a tight match against No. 67 Alexis Heugas. After McKie won the first set 6-2, Heugas evened the match by winning the second set 6-4. The third set was a back and forth battle, and the two players finally reached the decisive third set tiebreaker.
“At first I was dominating the guy, but he raised his level,” McKie said. “When I looked across the courts at the beginning of the third set, I knew it was going to come down to me. When it came to the tiebreak, I remember saying to myself, ‘Give absolutely everything and have no regrets.’”
Once into the tiebreak, McKie was unstoppable. He won seven points in a row to win the match 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (0), giving the Bulldogs a 4-3 win. No. 30 VCU is the highest ranked opponent the Bulldogs have defeated in program history.
“Even though I clinched the match, the other guys stepped up big time in doubles and overall for an unbelievable team effort,” McKie said.
The Bulldogs will be returning home to the Roger Knapp Tennis Center this Saturday, where they will go up against North Dakota and Western Illinois at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.