Ishida Leads Competitive Spirit for Men’s Tennis


Courtesy of Brian Hodgkin

First-year Michael Drougas returns a shot during a game last fall. The Yeomen travel to Chicago this weekend to face the University of Chicago Maroons and the Wheaton College Thunder.

Jackie McDermott, Sports Editor

The men’s tennis team kicked off its spring season at home on Saturday, falling to conference rival Wabash College in a six hour-long 5–4 loss and 7–2 to Division II foe Tiffin University.

Oberlin’s marathon contest against the Wabash Little Giants culminated in a three-set match in the fifth flight between senior captain Soren Zeliger and Wabash’s Graham McMullen. The previous three regular-season meetings between the two teams ended in a close 5–4 score, and again on Saturday, the score stood at 4–4 as Zeliger stepped on court to play the deciding match.

“There were definitely some nerves at first,” said Zeliger. “I knew it was 4–4 and this would be the deciding match, so I just tried to stay calm and stay consistent, and maybe I overdid that and was lacking in energy at first.”

McMullen raced to a quick 5–2 lead in the first set before Zeliger gained some momentum, winning two games before losing 6–4 in the first set. Zeliger then found an aggressive rhythm in the second set, getting to the net as much as possible and feeding off of the crowd’s energy to cruise to a 1–6 win. McMullen’s consistency ultimately proved too much for Zeliger, who struggled with his first serve percentage in the third set and fell 6–3.

Despite the disappointing loss, Zeliger counted the match as one of the most memorable of his college career.

“That was probably the most fun I’ve had playing a tennis match in my life,” he said. “At every point it felt like the whole team was behind me, cheering for me. That is a pretty unique situation to be in, and while it was nerve-wracking at times, it was also a ton of fun.”

Many of Zeliger’s teammates also found themselves in tense situations on Saturday, as four of the six singles matches went to three sets. First-year Michael Drougas and junior Callan Louis both won three-setters at the second and third flights. Drougas, now ranked 46th in the nation and 12th in the region after a stellar showing at the ITA Regional Championships in the fall, used his crafty slice and consistent lobs to best Wabash’s Michael Makio 7–5, 4–6, 6–1.

Despite the close loss, Head Coach Eric Ishida was proud of the way his team handled the tough test so early in the season.

“Overall, it was a great experience to get out there and play a high-intensity, important match this early in the year,” said Ishida. “We will definitely build on that tough loss.”

In the second match of the day against the Tiffin Dragons, Ishida changed most of the starting lineup, as matches against Division II teams have no bearing on Oberlin’s team ranking, but can serve as great match experience.

Though they fell 7–2, the Yeomen fought hard, with sophomore Lucas Brown and first-year Robert Gittings grabbing the team’s two singles points. Gittings’s 10–8 win was the first of his college tennis career.

The match against Tiffin gave the Yeomen a chance to show off their depth, and Ishida was pleased with the performances of the second match starters.

“We have talented guys all the way down to the No. 12 position,” he said. “I wanted to give those guys the chance to prove themselves. … They competed extremely well.”

The Yeomen returned to campus in February after a Winter Term trip to Australia, where the men’s and women’s teams spent two weeks traveling in Melbourne and Sydney. There, they watched part of the Australian Open and played at a number of historic Australian tennis sites, including the site of the Sydney Olympics and the former site of the Australian Open, the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.

Ishida was thrilled that the Australia trip gave a great boost to team chemistry and hopes the good vibes from the team’s travels carry over into the season.

“I felt good about our first week of practice [leading up to Saturday],” he said. “Coming out of the Australia trip we had a lot of good team dynamics going.”

Using that positive team energy, the men transitioned into 6:45 a.m. practices upon returning to campus, a time slot that has made their practice time especially productive. Ishida noted that morning practices allow the men to have sole use of all four indoor courts, while also freeing up the rest of their day to focus on academics.

Despite having to wake up early in the morning, Zeliger said he is pleased with the switch to an earlier practice time and praised the competitive mindset Ishida promoted in his first few years of coaching at Oberlin.

“It’s no longer exciting to just be competitive against good players,” said Zeliger. “We want to win.”

Ishida also sees this passion in the younger members of the team.

“We’re very strong — a confident group,” said Ishida. “We added four new players that are all buying into the program, and with the juniors and sophomores having a year or two under their belts, they’re very hungry, and they’re the nucleus of our team.”

The men will travel to Chicago next weekend to play the University of Chicago and Wheaton College. Ishida hopes to use each match as a learning experience in preparation for the conference championships in April.

“It’s an exciting season for us; this is a very capable team,” Ishida said. “We have depth, balance, chemistry, and our schedule is set up so that we can peak at the end of the year. That’s what we’re looking forward to — seeing how strong we are in April. Until then, there are a lot of lessons to be learned.”