The Fight is on for the Valley Title; ISU Faces No. 51 Drake
April 19, 2007
NORMAL, Ill. - It will be a grand finale for the Illinois State men's tennis team (12-6, 5-0) as they head to Des Moines, Iowa Saturday, April 21 to face nationally ranked Drake (19-2, 4-0) with the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title on the line. The match is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at the Drake Tennis Center.
For ISU, a win would mark its second consecutive regular season conference championship. It would also continue the Redbirds' six-match winning streak and put them at a perfect 6-0 mark in the Valley.
A win for No. 51 Drake would mark its second regular season conference title since 2004. It would also continue the team's 18-match winning streak; however, this match is not Drake's final match, as they will face Bradley on Sunday, a foe that Illinois State has already conquered (7-0).
Entering this contest, head coach Greg Kennett knows that the stakes are high.
"There is a Missouri Valley Conference title on the line and we are the defending champions for the regular season," said Kennett. "We are still the champions until Saturday and we certainly want it to stay that way. We know this match is big and we are up for the challenge."
Key components to this match will be winning the doubles point. Illinois State has confidence in its doubles teams; the squad has won the doubles point 13 times out of the past 18 matches. The Redbirds will look to their top performing No. 2 doubles team, Luka Marinkovic and Daniel Tobar, who together hold a perfect 7-0 mark. Oscar Beich and Michael Hobson will team at third doubles, where the fairly new duo will look to improve on their 3-0 mark. At No. 1 doubles, tandem Yohann Nograbat and Alfredo Lagarda will look to tally another win on their 9-6 record.
"We know we are strong in doubles and that we can win the doubles point," said Kennett. "Winning doesn't just happen. We need to be prepared and get the job done."
The Redbirds will be looking to their lower positions to take out the Bulldogs in singles. Drake's main strength comes from up top with Maor Zirkin and Sergi Vila at No.1 and 2 singles, respectively. Zirkin has notched 23 victories at No. 1 and Vila holds 36-6 record in singles.
"Drake's top guys are good and I would say that they have an advantage but not necessarily one that we can't overcome," said Kennett. "I know our lower guys in the lineup know that the pressure is on them because that is where we are going to win our points and where we are stronger than Drake. We need to win at 5 and 6 and we can certainly win at 3 with the way Luka is playing.
"I am not counting our top players out," added Kennett. "Yohann is as talented as they come. If he mentally shows up and is determined win, he could get it done. At times he counts his self out too quick but if he can stay mentally strong he can beat anybody and Alfredo is the same way. If Alfredo is confident in his game and can keep the ball in play he can do well. "
The State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championships take place the following weekend, April 27-29, in Omaha, Neb.