The Drexel University men’s and women’s tennis teams entered their weekend competitions against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers Feb. 23 and the United States Naval Academy Midshipmen Feb. 24 on hot streaks, with the women riding a five-match winning streak and the men boasting four consecutive wins. Despite momentum being on Drexel’s side, UMBC and Navy proved to be too strong, as they swept the Dragons on back-to-back days. While Drexel emerged from the weekend winless, there was certainly something to gain from the experience. Head coach Mehdi Rhazali understands the importance of facing tough opponents and gaining experience for bigger events later in the season.
“Both teams have been playing and meeting our short-term goals as we progress through the season,” Rhazali said. “This past weekend I wanted to challenge them and play tougher competition, especially teams that have a lot of match experience and have been to NCAA championships.”
The men started off their weekend at UMBC, where they were unable to come away with a point in a 7-0 shutout. Despite the Dragons’ best efforts, they were swept in straight sets in singles and lost two of the three doubles matches. The duo of freshman Xabier Saavedra and sophomore Dan Koehler came away with the lone win for the Drexel men on the day, as they were able to break and then hold for a close 8-6 decision at No. 2 doubles. In the No. 1 doubles match, sophomore Badr Ouabdelmoumen and junior Skyler Davis both battled through tennis elbow in a 5-8 loss. In the end it was Drexel’s inability to break serve when the team needed to at the No. 1 and No. 3 doubles that prevented them from winning. Ouabdelmoumen also fought through the injury in the men’s closest singles match of the day, which he ultimately lost 4-6, 5-7 at the No. 1 position.
In the women’s competition, the Dragons suffered a similar fate to the men, as they were shut out by UMBC 7-0. Like the men, the women were swept in the singles matches and dropped two of the three doubles contests, with the only win coming at the No. 2 position, where sophomore Nicole Pivonka and senior Emma Brook played through injuries of their own while downing their opponents 8-6. The winning pair later returned to the court for singles play, where they competed in the women’s closest singles matches of the afternoon. At the No. 4 position, Pivonka fiercely battled but eventually fell to her opponent in straight sets 4-6, 5-7. Brook competed equally well at No. 2, as she pushed her opponent to the only third set of the day before falling 7-5, 4-6, 4-6. While disappointed with the scores, Rhazali was not disappointed in his teams’ efforts.
“When the players fight and give it all they have, I take the loss in a positive way,” Rhazali said. “This weekend we did what we could and we played tough competition, competed through injuries such as tennis elbow and knee injuries.”
Drexel wasted no time getting back to the court after the losses to UMBC, as they headed to Annapolis the following day to take on Navy. Both teams competed in several close matches, but they were again unable to come away with a team win, with the men losing 4-1 and the women losing 4-3.
Despite the apparent lopsidedness of the men’s 4-1 decision, the team competition was very close. Navy clinched the win with its fourth point with three matches still underway, all of which were being led by the Dragons. Saavedra and Ouabdelmoumen were both closing in on wins in the third set with leads of 4-2 at No. 5 and 3-2 at No. 1, respectively. The No. 2 doubles match was also cut short with Saavedra and Koehler maintaining a lead. Junior Alex Fioravante captured the only point for the Drexel men on the weekend with a strong finish in a 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory at No. 6. Davis and senior Jeganathan Srinivasan also took their opponents to three sets but could not notch the victory. After the match, Rhazali maintained confidence in his team.
“If we were healthy enough and a bit mentally tougher, we could beat Navy,” he said.
The women started the day very strong against Navy with two doubles wins to take the coveted doubles point. The teams, consisting of juniors Zeynep Mafa and Marcela Rosales at first doubles and Brook and Pivonka at second doubles, both won their matches 8-6 to secure Drexel’s early lead. In singles play, Mafa scored another point for the Dragons with a convincing 6-3, 6-1 victory at No. 1. Pivonka also continued her strong play with a three-set win at No. 2 by a score of 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. In the No. 3 singles match that would go on to dictate the result of the team competition, Rosales was unable to break her opposition at 4-4 in the third set and was broken soon thereafter. Despite a second consecutive team loss, Rhazali found the positives in his team’s efforts, particularly those of his top two singles players.
“Mafa played the way I want her to play; she played smart tennis. Her heavy forehand and great technique is her main strength. She moves well, and she opens up the court well to set up and finish the point,” Rhazali said. “Nicole played a good match. She fought hard. Her depth and big backhand helped her stay in the rallies and control most of them.”
Rhazali and the women’s team will return to the Armory March 2 to take on George Washington University. The team will take to the practice courts this week in preparation for a very good GWU squad. Throughout the week, the team will have one-on-one sessions with Rhazali, play some practice matches and stretch well to ensure they are ready for the match. Win or lose, the team will learn from another competitive match with a strong opponent and continue to improve.