Story by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Morgan Dezenski
Since the beginning of the fall season, the No. 27 Drake men’s tennis team has made it known that one of its main goals it to be one of the best teams in the nation and crack the Top-25. The Bulldogs will have their chance to prove themselves this weekend as they travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to take on the No. 66 Minnesota Gophers and the No. 14 Washington Huskies.
Drake enters the weekend’s contests with a 2-1 record against ranked teams, with its only loss coming to then-No. 33 Florida State. The Bulldogs have defeated No. 53 Denver and No. 30 VCU, and their win over Nebraska came one weekend before the Huskers moved to No. 59 in the national rankings. Friday’s match against the Gophers will be the first time Drake has battled a ranked opponent since Feb. 9.
“The team is looking forward to playing some top ranked teams this weekend,” Erasmus said. “We have gained a lot of confidence over the course of the season. The team is healthy and as always, ready for a battle.”
Minnesota currently carries a national ranking of No. 66, but its record is only 3-6. The Gophers’ lone win over a ranked opponent came over No. 35 Louisville at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis. The Gophers’ other two wins came over Northern Illinois and Marquette, who are both unranked. Although they may not hold as many wins as expected, Minnesota is still a dangerous team, especially at home. The Gophers have only lost to nationally ranked teams, and four of their six losses have been by the score of 3-4.
The Bulldogs aren’t overlooking the Gophers in the slightest, especially considering Drake’s recent lack of success in Minneapolis. The Bulldogs haven’t won on the Gophers’ home court since February 10, 2008, when the No. 53 Bulldogs upset the then- No. 52 Gophers 4-3.
“We know the atmosphere will be tough at Minnesota, yet we know we have to stick to what we have been doing really well thus far in practice and in matches, the basics,” said senior Jean Erasmus.
“Playing Minnesota in Minneapolis is always going to be tough, and we are aware of that,” senior James McKie added. “We need to go out there and put the pressure on them from the start. There will be a lot of fans against us, but I’m confident that with the experience we have on our team, we will take care of business.”
If the Bulldogs manage to defeat Minnesota, they have an even greater challenge, and opportunity, against No. 19 Washington.
“The match against Washington will be important in the sense that it will probably get us into the Top-25 rankings with a win this weekend, which has been one of our goals from the start,” Erasmus said. “We know we are capable of much more than that with this talented team, and this weekend is only going to be another opportunity to prove ourselves.”
Washington is the highest ranked team the Bulldogs have ever faced in the regular season, and the Huskies are currently on a three-game win streak that began with a 4-1 upset over the No. 11 Florida Gators on Feb. 17. The Huskies are certainly battle-tested, as they have an overall record of 9-4, with their only losses coming to teams ranked in the Top-25. Three of those losses were teams in the Top-10 nationally.
Although Drake will be the underdog in Saturday’s match against Washington, the Bulldogs are feeling confident that they can pull off the upset. They cite their depth throughout the singles lineup and their fearless attitude as assets that will benefit them this weekend and throughout the season.
“(Washington) are [sic] going to be ranked in the Top-15 because of their win over No. 11 Florida, but the great thing about this team is we have no fear,” McKie said. “We don’t fear any team and we fully believe we can get the win. Yeah it will be a tough match, but if we show up on the day and give it everything, there is a strong chance we can win, especially as we are playing in a neutral location.”
Check back with The Times-Delphic on Monday to see the complete results of the Bulldogs’ weekend in Minneapolis.