Story by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Morgan Dezenski
The Bulldogs started the week off in DeLand, Fla., as they faced the Stetson Hatters, a team that held a national ranking earlier in the season. Drake had no trouble with the Hatters, though, as the Bulldogs posted a decisive 7-0 victory.
The team traveled down to Tampa for a match against South Florida, but the Bulls were no match for the Bulldogs. Drake won 7-0 for the second time in two days.
The only day off the team had was Wednesday, and it spent the day traveling to San Diego, Calif., for the Hilton San Diego Mission Valley Spring Classic hosted by the University of San Diego and San Diego State University.
The Spring Classic hosted multiple nationally-ranked teams, but Drake started off the tournament against the unranked Denver Pioneers, as Drake was the highest seed in the draw. The Bulldogs had already defeated Denver in their first match of the spring season, and they only improved upon their initial performance. Drake won the match 4-0, and were leading on all remaining courts when the match was called.
Drake’s next match was considerably more challenging, as it faced the then-No. 44 Memphis Tigers. The match against Memphis looked to be highly contested from the start, as the Bulldogs barely captured the doubles point off the strength of a 9-8 (7) win by senior Jean Erasmus and sophomore Alen Salibasic at the top doubles spot. The duo had to fight off a set point against Memphis to secure the 1-0 lead for Drake.
Once singles play began, the Bulldogs began to take over. Straight-sets wins from senior James McKie and junior Robin Goodman at the second and third spots, respectively, pushed the lead to 3-0. Johnny Grimal of Memphis dispatched Salibasic at the fourth slot, but Ghorbel soon clinched the match for Drake with a three-set win over Connor Glennon of the Tigers.
“Memphis is a very good team, and I expect them to be Top-30 by the end of the year,” McKie said. “We handled them well and showed them we are the team to beat.”
The win over Memphis put Drake in the finals of the tournament against the then-No. 23 Harvard Crimson. The match started in Harvard’s favor, as it took the doubles point after defeating Ghorbel and Goodman at the third doubles position.
Down 0-1, the Bulldogs fought back in singles. Sophomore Ben Mullis demolished his opponent 6-1, 6-1 to tie the score, but Harvard soon regained the momentum. Both Salibasic and McKie lost in straight sets, putting Drake in a 1-3 hole. Goodman’s hard-fought three-set win kept the Bulldogs in contention and gave Erasmus a chance to even the score. Erasmus forced a third set tiebreaker against Nicky Hu of Harvard but lost 5-7 in the breaker.
“I have to admit Harvard was a tough loss to take,” McKie said. “I didn’t perform to the level I know I can show, and it annoys me hugely.”
“The main thing that I learned about the loss against Harvard was that anything can happen on the day,” Goodman said. “When two teams are so closely ranked, any team has the ability to win, and I have no doubt if we played them again we would be the team that would come out on top. It’s all about having the confidence and focus to play your best tennis, and Harvard is definitely a team we can beat.”
Though they did not win the Hilton San Diego Mission Valley Spring Classic, the Bulldogs believe the chance to play outdoor matches against strong competition prepared them well as the conference slate begins.
“I feel very confident going into conference play, since we had a very successful transition from indoor to outdoor tennis in the last week,” Salibasic said.
Drake’s first conference match is this Saturday in Omaha, Neb., as the Bulldogs take on the Creighton Bluejays.