Tough match ahead as tennis faces foe Drake


Great rivalries have been a fixture of the sporting scene — Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal, Duke against North Carolina, Celtics versus Lakers.

One rivalry that hasn’t dominated the headlines but is still deeply impassioned approaches tonight, when the Iowa men’s tennis team faces its biggest rival — Drake.

“Drake is very much a rival for us,” Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said. “We’ve had close matches over the years, back and forth.

“People think it’s a small school, but one of the sports it has always emphasized a lot is tennis, particularly on the men’s side of things.”

The Bulldogs enter tonight’s dual meet at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex with a 2-6 record, while the Hawkeyes come in with a 4-1 mark. Although Iowa is 23-8 against the Bulldogs, Drake might be coming to Iowa City as prepared as ever. Former Hawkeye assistant Matt Brothers is at the helm of the Bulldogs’ men’s tennis program. Brothers was an assistant coach under Iowa’s head coach, Steve Houghton, for five years.

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In the team’s last meeting in 2008, Brothers led the Bulldogs to a 5-2 victory in Des Moines.
Houghton expects this to be a premier match for Iowa, which needs its players to compete at their peak.

“It will be a very hard-fought, emotional-type match,” Houghton said. “As far as getting prepared, I’m probably not going to have to say much to motivate our guys.”

The last time these two teams met, Iowa claimed only one singles victory — then-junior Christian Bierich defeated Ricardo Lau (6-2, 6-2). This time out, Houghton notes that the Hawkeyes have been sweeping the competition in doubles, but he knows singles could be the weak spot against a top-notch Drake squad. Iowa senior Greg Holm is the only Hawkeye who remains unbeaten in singles.

“I’m happy with where the doubles are right now,” Houghton said. “If anything, we’ve dominated in doubles right now. Singles have been good, too, but I still feel we have two or three of our guys who aren’t playing at their best, and we’ll need them to be that much better by Wednesday.”

Iowa had a 10-day window between its most recent meet against Western Michigan, on Feb. 15, and tonight. The team said the break was needed to address its strengths and weaknesses.

“Last year was kind of a heartbreaker, so there really is nothing we haven’t been focusing on,” junior Patrick Dwyer said. “This week, with the weekend off, a lot of fitness. A lot of guys just getting back because some guys were sick, so we’re just getting back into it and getting mentally prepared for a tough team and a tough rivalry.”

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