Courtesy of OC Athletic
The men’s tennis team bested conference rival the Allegheny College Gators 7–2 last Saturday to clinch the fifth seed in the upcoming North Conference Athletic Conference tournament. The Yeomen sent senior captain Soren Zeliger off with the program’s first win over Allegheny in 10 years on his Senior Day. The team, which fell to the Case Western Reserve University Spartans the next day, finished the regular season at 11–9 with a 2–1 record in the NCAC.
The atmosphere was lively at the Don Hunsinger Courts on Saturday as the men’s match got off to a close start with Oberlin winning the doubles matches 2–1. Zeliger and junior Callan Louis fell in a tough 8–4 loss at first-flight doubles, but the pairing of first-year Michael Drougas and sophomore Ian Paik picked them up, winning 8–2, before sophomores Billy Lennon and Abraham Davis won 8–5 to give the Yeomen that 2–1 advantage.
In singles action, Paik, Drougas and Louis earned close victories in the first three singles spots, and Lennon, whom Head Coach Eric Ishida recently moved into the starting lineup, bested his Allegheny opponent 6–2, 6–2 in the sixth flight. First-year Manickam Manickam was the last of the Yeomen on court, and, with all of his teammates cheering him on, ground out a second set tiebreak win 6–4, 7–6 (6–3).
Ishida said that the decisive win over Allegheny represented a big step forward for the team
“Beating Allegheny was a big deal for the program,” he said. “We had not beaten them in 10 years. Last year they beat us twice badly — this year is different, and we made that point.”
Paik also said the win over Allegheny was special because it came on Senior Day.
“Allegheny is always going to be a very important match for our team, but [it was] especially [important] this year with it being our final home match against a team we had not beaten in 10 years on Senior Day for our one senior, Soren,” he said. “Winning against Allegheny also ensured we would all get a second chance at [fourth seed] Wabash in the four versus five match [of the NCAC tournament].”
The foundation for the men’s team’s recent success was laid in March, as the Yeomen pieced together a six-match win streak that included a big 7–2 win over The College of Wooster.
Following the win over Allegheny, the final match of the season was on Sunday, April 19 against Case Western. The match pitted two siblings against each other, as Drougas’ older brother Will is a senior on the Case Western squad.
The Yeomen suffered an 8–1 loss, but it was the younger Drougas who earned the Yeomen’s lone point, winning at No. 2 singles 4–6, 6–3, 6–2.
The Drougas brothers went head to head at No. 2 doubles, with Will and his partner besting Michael and Paik in an exciting 9–7 match.
Despite the tough loss, Drougas was pleased to have the opportunity to play his brother before Will graduates this spring.
“Playing against my brother was a cool experience,” Drougas said. “[We both] have perspective when it comes to tennis, so that made the match fun rather than contentious. He is a great player, and Case Western is a great team.”
Drougas went on to say that he is proud of how the team played on Sunday.
“It was a really fun match, and our whole team competed really well. I think that match will definitely help us going into conference,” he said.
The Yeomen head into the conference tournament ranked 13th in the ITA Central Region, their highest ranking in recent history and an increase from No. 20 in the preseason regional rankings. The doubles team of Louis and Zeliger hold the No. 13 spot in the region.
For Ishida, that recognition is a sign that the Yeomen are finally reaching their full potential.
“We have improved from 25 in the region at the end of last year to 13 [this year],” he said. “We can’t look into those numbers too closely, but it really shows our improvement. The teams that we are now associated with are very good. Our team is committed to reaching full potential, and that is what we can control.”
Paik, ranked No. 24 in the region in singles, feels the team is poised to take on fourth-seed Wabash in the conference playoffs as they look to avenge an early season 5–4 loss to the Little Giants.
“Our home opener against Wabash definitely woke us all up and left us all wanting to play them again immediately to rectify the loss, so now’s our shot,” Paik said.
Paik also said that Oberlin will need to bring a lot of energy from the start against Wabash, as in the NCAC tournament teams play until decision, meaning that the first team to win five matches wins the match.
“We know we need to go into doubles with a lot of energy and then carry the momentum from doubles into singles,” he said. “We all just need to be prepared to do whatever’s necessary to get our five team points.”
Refusing to focus on that early-season loss, Ishida said that he is encouraging his players only to look forward.
“We have to forget about the last time we played them,” he said. “[Both teams have] played a lot of tennis since then, and this will be a different match for sure. I feel good about the matchup.”
After a long, grueling season, Ishida is looking forward to the team’s hard work coming to fruition in the conference tournament.
“Overall it’s been a great season, and we have yet to play our best tennis,” he said. “We are looking to put it all together this weekend.”
The Yeomen will travel to Gambier, Ohio this Friday to battle the Little Giants in the first round of the NCAC tournament, hosted by Kenyon College.