BY ADAM ROGAN
In three road matches in three days across the state of Louisiana, the Drake Men’s Tennis team struggled against ranked opponents, finishing 1-2 on the weekend and falling from 35th to 44th in the national rankings.
“It was a tough trip,” head coach Davidson Kozlowski said. “It wasn’t the outcomes we were looking for, what we expected and definitely not what we wanted.”
The weekend started with Friday’s loss at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
On paper, the two teams looked even entering the match. The Bulldogs were 5-3, the Tigers 3-3. LSU was ranked 32nd, Drake 35th. Both teams had one player ranked in the top 100.
The Tigers struck first with a decisive 6-0 win on the third doubles court over sophomore Ben Stride and freshman Tom Hands. Senior Ben Lott and sophomore Calum MacGeoch fell soon after 6-4.
The surprise of the doubles matches was Vinny Gillespie and Bayo Phillips nearly upsetting LSU’s Boris Arias and Jordan Daigle, ranked 25th in doubles as a pair. Gillespie and Phillips pushed the match to a tiebreaker, but lost 7-6 (7-5) to give the Tigers a 1-0 advantage.
In singles, the LSU Wildcats made quick work of the Bulldogs.
Lott, ranked 76th in singles, fell 6-2, 7-5 to Daigle, ranked 44th, on the first court.
Hands was the second to lose, going down in three sets. Phillips fell in a close 6-4, 7-5 loss to give LSU the 4-0 victory.
Perhaps it was mercy that the match ended there since Wildcats were leading on all three other courts at the time.
“We went to compete and at times I just feel like we weren’t as competitive as we needed to be,” Kozlowski said.
The Bulldogs had much better luck against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette the next afternoon.
Lafayette won the doubles point in two matches, but that would be its first and last point of the day.
Hands won his match on the no. 6 court in two close sets to tie the match at one. MacGeoch won in two sets as well, escaping in a tiebreaker in the first set.
Lott came from behind for his first win of the season on the second court. He’d lost the first set 6-4, but won the next two decisively by scores of 6-2 and 6-1.
Phillips also improved to 1-1 on the no. 1 court. He may have won in straight sets, but just barely. The first set ended in a tiebreaker that he won 7-5. The second set wasn’t quite as tight, its tiebreaker ended 7-1.
Still, the 4-1 Drake win would be the high point of the weekend, as the no. 27 Tulane Green Waves were waiting for the Bulldogs in New Orleans on Sunday.
Against Tulane, Drake lost its sixth straight doubles point, a setback that’s proven to be difficult to overcome. Still, there was an upside to Sunday’s doubles performance.
“We changed up the doubles pairs and had some really positive performances from everybody across the board,” MacGeoch said.
MacGeoch and Gillespie managed to win 6-4 on the no. 2 court in their first match as a pairing.
Sophomore Ben Wood and Lott lost their doubles match 6-4, a near upset of Dominik Koepfer and Chi-Shan Jao, the seventh best doubles team in the nation.
Stride and Phillips survived into a tiebreaker, but weren’t able to survive down the stretch and lost 7-6 (7-4), putting the Green Waves up 1-0.
Even though the Bulldogs almost pulled off the upset on the first court in doubles, Phillips wasn’t even close in singles against Koepfer, the current no. 1 collegiate player in the NCAA.
Gillespie managed to get Drake on the board, winning 6-2, 6-3 on the third court.
Lott didn’t have as much luck on the second court. Despite facing an unranked opponent, Lott still went down in straight sets. He lost all six games in set one, but battled to game 12 in set two, but couldn’t force a tiebreaker and lost 6-0, 7-5.
Hands lost 6-2, 6-3 on the no. 6 court to give Tulane the 4-1 win.
“As the weekend went on I thought we would get stronger, but I feel that our least competitive match was on Sunday against Tulane, which was extremely disappointing,” Kozlowski said.
Still, Kozlowski is confident. He doesn’t feel that the loss was a sign of weakness on the squad.
“Road or home, I think our team is very good,” Kozlowski said. “The focus has to be on our effort and how competitive we want to be, and not if we’re playing in- or outside, or on the road or at home.”
The loss dropped Drake to 6-5 on the season, the team’s worst start by record since 2009.
Drake has two home matches against ranked opponents this weekend, the first of eight straight home matches for the Bulldogs.
“I have a lot of confidence in the team,” MacGeoch said. “We’re going to come out more motivated than we have been and … put ourselves in good position to get some very good wins this weekend.”