Men’s tennis set to play Drake


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Screaming fans, packed bleachers, and two programs that respect and loathe one another.

The No. 55 Iowa men’s tennis team (4-1) will travel to Des Moines today to face what many players consider their fiercest rival, Drake (2-3).

“We’ve had some very good matches with them over the years,” Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said. “It’s going to be a matchup of two fired-up teams. They have good fans, a good team, and a good coach [Jimmy Borendame].”

The meet’s marquee matchup is in the No. 1 slot, where Iowa sophomore Marc Bruche is scheduled to take on Drake’s Mauricio Ballivian. The junior from Bolivia earned the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Week honor on Feb. 9.

The doubles team of Ballivian’s and sophomore Cesar Bracho began the season ranked No. 39 nationally, No. 2 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Central Region.

Bruche will face Ballivian in both singles and doubles.

“[Ballivian] is a good, solid player,” Houghton said. “He’s very good from the baseline, and he has a strong backhand and forehand. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”

Also looming for the Hawkeyes is Drake freshman James McKie, who will likely face Iowa junior Nikita Zotov in the No. 2 position.

McKie played Iowa senior Reinoud Haal earlier in the Central Regional tournament in the fall, and Haal said he is well aware of how dangerous McKie can be.

“He is aggressive,” Haal said. “He’s always looking for balls to attack, especially close to the net. [Zotov] has to keep his shots deep and not let him come in whenever he wants.”

The Hawkeyes have won four-straight meets so far, and Drake, struggling against ranked opponents, has dropped three-consecutive meets after beginning the season 2-0.

Despite their losing streak, Houghton said, the Bulldogs shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“Drake is very similar to Western Michigan,” he said. “There really hasn’t been one time where one team dominated the other on an individual level. Even if the meet scores seem lopsided, the individual matches are always close.”

The intensity of the meet is magnified because today’s competition is the second of three meets this week for the Hawkeyes as well.

Houghton said he has been keeping practices light, considering the team’s grueling stretch and the abilities of the opponents his players are facing.

Haal, one of only three seniors on the Iowa roster, said he knows not to be complacent, but he is also confident about Iowa’s chances.

“They always have a good atmosphere, and it’ll be a good match,” he said. “I think we know how to beat them.”

Houghton’s longest-tenured players are not the only Hawkeyes who understand the gravity of playing an in-state rival, however.

Sophomore Will Vasos said the squad must keep things in perspective.

“[Drake is] probably our biggest rival, but we have to approach it like any other match,” he said. “We have to keep the same mentality that we always have, which is to stay focused, try to dominate our matches, and play our best.”

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