Story by Dominic Johnson
The No. 28 Drake men’s tennis team travels to Carbondale, Ill., on Saturday for a 1 p.m. match against the Salukis of Southern Illinois University.
With Drake’s victory over Wichita State this past weekend, the match against Southern Illinois plays a huge role in determining which team will finish first in the conference standings. The Bulldogs and Salukis are the only teams with 2-0 records in conference.
Southern Illinois enters Saturday’s contest with an 11-3 overall record and is coming off an impressive 5-2 win over Illinois State. The win over the Redbirds was the Salukis’ most impressive match of the season, as the other 10 wins came over mediocre teams in non-conference competition.
The Bulldogs are the heavy favorite in the matchup, especially since the Salukis have struggled against high-level and nationally ranked teams. Southern Illinois has lost to the Wisconsin Badgers, Northern Illinois Huskies and the nationally-ranked Memphis Tigers. While Southern Illinois lost to Memphis 4-0, the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 4-1 just three weeks ago.
During senior James McKie’s time at Drake, the Bulldogs have never lost to Southern Illinois. The closest the Salukis have come is 5-2, in 2010 and 2011. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t lost to Southern Illinois since April 16, 2005, when Drake lost 3-4 in Carbondale. Drake defeated the Salukis 7-0 last season in Des Moines.
“Southern Illinois is a lot better this year than previous years,” McKie said. “I definitely think they are just as good as Wichita, so we can’t underestimate them, and we have to be ready.”
Like McKie, junior Robin Goodman expects a strong Salukis squad on Saturday.
“SIU are a pretty good team this year,” Goodman said. “The guy that played No. 1 for them last year is now playing No. 3, so they are not weak by any means.”
This year’s Salukis are a much-improved version of last year’s team though, as their lineup includes only one freshman.
McKie believes that Southern Illinois’ experience this year will make it a more difficult opponent than last year.
“They also have a lot of experienced guys who have been around for a while,” McKie said. “However, I have full confidence that if everyone brings their game and the energy, we will win the match.”
A win on Saturday would push Drake’s record to 20-2, and it would be the third year in a row that the Bulldogs have posted at least 20 wins in a season. Though the Salukis pose a threat, Goodman expects Drake to post an easy victory thanks to the Bulldogs’ persistent “fight and determination.”
“We are going to go out there with the same fight and determination as we did against Wichita State,” Goodman said. “We all know most of their team and how they play, so (that) will be an advantage for us, and if we all fight and focus like we always do, it should be quite a straightforward victory.”