Men’s tennis looks to extend win streak

BY BEN ROSS | FEBRUARY 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Riding a two-match winning streak, the Iowa men’s tennis players are confident heading into their match with Drake tonight. The Hawkeyes and the Bulldogs have the state’s only two Division-I men’s tennis programs.

As of late, Drake (6-0) has held a slight advantage in the annual matchup, going 4-3 in the last seven meetings, but Iowa (3-3) has won the last two contests. Head coach Steve Houghton also cited the intensity of past contests as a reason he always looks forward to the Drake match.

“It’s a long-standing rivalry,” he said. “Ever since I can remember, the last 15 to 20 matches have been very competitive. Our guys need to be well-prepared. “

Last year’s match was extremely competitive. The crucial doubles point played the X-factor in a 4-3 win for the Black and Gold in Des Moines. This year’s match will be played at 6 p.m. today in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex, with free admission for UI students.

Sophomore Garret Dunn doesn’t need to be reminded how large of a match it is.

“[The rivalry] is pretty big,” the Tempe, Ariz., native said. “Last year at Drake, they brought a lot of people. I know it will be a great match, definitely one of the most intense nonconference matches.”

Drake hasn’t had any trouble adjusting to new head coach Evan Austin this season after previous coach Chase Hodges resigned to take the head coaching position at Georgia State. The Hawkeyes are familiar with Austin, who served as the assistant coach at Wisconsin for the last four years. Despite the rivalry, Houghton doesn’t see a need to change his strategy for the matchup.

“[Our strategy] will be very similar to the one we employed against Illinois State,” the 30-year head coach said. “The success we had in doubles added confidence; our guys just need to be prepared.”

Indeed, a win would be important for the up-and-coming squad, which has the potential to be riding a three-match winning streak when it faces No. 9 Illinois next week in Iowa City. Dunn said intensity will be a key to victory for his team, pointing to the extra will to win he saw in the team during its match against Western Michigan.

“We have to be intense,” he said. “[Drake] was pretty energetic and loud last year. The intensity we show in doubles gets the momentum going for singles.”

Spectators can expect to see the tandem of juniors Marc Bruche and Will Vasos with their hands full if they compete against Drake’s pair of senior Mauricio Ballivan and sophomore Anis Ghorbel, who are ranked No. 80 in the nation as a doubles duo.

Iowa senior Austen Kauss said earlier in the season he was looking most forward to playing Drake so he can redeem himself for a poor performance he put on in Des Moines last year. Kauss has made a point of what he will work on to improve his game.

“I will continue to do a lot of doubles work,” he said. “Work on my movement and being really aggressive at the net. We will use our momentum to raise the intensity in the match.”

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