By ERIN O’BOYLE
As the rest of campus was celebrating the Drake Relay’s last week, Drake men’s tennis was traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the Summit League Championship. The Bulldogs entered the tournament with a target on their backs as last year’s Summit League champions.
This year the Bulldogs entered the tournament ranked at No. 2 in Summit League standings. On Friday, April 26 the Drake men’s tennis team began tournament play against Valparaiso. Earlier this month, the Bulldogs faced Valpo in Indiana and left with a staggering 6-1 match score. With Valparaiso ranked at No. 3 in the Summit League rankings, the Bulldogs had the upper hand, but refused to underestimate their opponent.
Beginning with the doubles competition, the Bulldogs fell to Valpo at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, and the No. 1 doubles team consisting of Vinny Gillespie and Barnaby Thorold left their match unfinished, which they were ahead in a 5-4 set score. With the doubles point lost, the Bulldogs marched into the singles competition with a renewed sense of urgency.
At No. 1 singles, Gillespie had an impressive sweep with 6-4, 6-3 set scores that got the Bulldogs back on track. Bayo Philips, at No. 3 singles, played just as impressively with set scores of 6-2,6-4. No. 5 singles Ben Clark was also victorious with a first set score of 6-4, and a second set score of 6-3. Finley Hall at No. 6 singles rounded up the Bulldogs’ impressive singles competition record with set scores of 6-1, 6-3.
No. 2 singles Tom Hands and No. 4 singles Calum MacGeoch both battled long and hard against their Valparaiso opponents, but their matches were left unfinished. Despite the three unfinished matches, the Bulldogs’ four clear cut wins in the singles competition were all it took to advance the Bulldogs to the next round of the tournament with a final score of 4-1 against Valparaiso.
Riding a high after Friday’s win, the Bulldogs entered the title match on Saturday to face No. 1 ranked Denver. A win against Denver would not only grant the Bulldogs the Summit League Championship title for a second year in a row, but it would also guarantee them a spot in the NCAA tournament. A lot was riding on this match and unlike against Valparaiso, the Drake men’s tennis team was coming in as the underdog after losing to Denver last month 3-4.
The doubles competition began the much-anticipated match with wins at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles from Denver. At No. 3 doubles, MacGeoch and Clark were able to pull out the win with a 7-5 set score. However, with a majority of the wins in the doubles competition, Denver was awarded the doubles point so Drake needed to win the majority of the singles matches if they wanted to secure title for a second year in-a-row.
Gillespie at No. 1 singles was victorious with set scores of 6-2, 6-2. No. 4 singles MacGeoch also won in back to back sets with both set scores of 6-4. Clark at No. 6 continued the Bulldog wins with a 7-6, 6-4 win. Despite these impressive wins, Denver was holding their own with wins at No. 3 and No. 5 singles. In the heart clenching match that would decide the champions of the Summit League, Tom Hands faced Denver’s Mattia Ros in a match of impeccable tennis.
Hands clinched the first set in a 7-6 win, fell in the second set 3-6, and the third deciding set went to tiebreaker when Hands and Ros were tied at 6-6 in the third set. As everyone held their breaths, Hands and Ros battled to the finish in a tiebreaker round where Hands came out victorious 7-5, thus securing the Bulldog’s second Summit League Championship.
Afterwards Hands commented on his match.
“My match was crazy long two hours 40 minutes, and with the scoreboard next to me it was hard not to see that it was coming down to my court,” Hands said. “I was 1-5 down in the deciding tiebreaker and managed to win 6 straight points to get the win, that was special and I was so relieved when I won that final point!”
The Bulldogs advance to the NCAA tournament on May 3. They will face the University of California in Champaign, Illinois at 1 p.m. The trip to Champaign marks the eighth time the Bulldogs have competed in the NCAA Tournament at the University of Illinois. Drake and California have never met just once before with the Bears earning a 5-1 win in 1990.
“NCAAs is a huge opportunity, to play a really high-quality team and then show people how good this team is,” Hands said. “I feel like we haven’t reached our potential this season so will be nice to have that opportunity.”
Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics