Men’s tennis takes confidence, two-match win streak on road

By Gus Bode

Missy Jeffrey did not receive any congratulatory phone calls, nor was she offered any praise from passersby for what she called her biggest win as head coach.

Instead, after handing Drake its first conference loss, one that dropped the Bulldogs from first to third in the standings, it was business as usual.

In much the same way it has been for her team.

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In fact, the Salukis went right back to work the very next day, catapulting even higher in standings with a shutout of Creighton.

Beating Drake not only pulled SIU from the depths of the Missouri Valley Conference standings, it was also a huge confidence boost to an already self-assured team.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” Jeffrey said, “And that’s what you’re always hoping for.”

SIU (8-8, 2-3) can continue its ascension in the standings and improve upon a two-match win streak in its final two matches of the regular season, at Bradley (6-14, 1-4) Saturday and Illinois State (8-9, 2-3) Sunday.

How well the Salukis perform this weekend will obviously determine if they ride a four-match win streak into the conference championships or not, but past results are encouraging.

Drake beat Illinois State 4-3 April 9 and Bradley 5-2 April 10. Each match was in Des Moines, Iowa. Of course, just because Drake beat both the Redbirds and Braves will not mean much come Saturday, but it is encouraging.

“We feel really confident we can beat Bradley and Illinois State,” said Bojan Ilievski, one of four Salukis to record singles victories against both Drake and Creighton last weekend. “We’re going to win and fight for the third and fourth spot in the conference.”

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Victories against Bradley and Illinois State, coupled with a pair of wins from the team whose perfect record they ruined, could propel the Salukis into a great seed for the conference championships.

“If we win both of them, we’ll place fourth in the conference,” Jeffrey said. “Drake is playing Wichita State and Southwest Missouri State this weekend, if they knock off either one of those teams, then we’ll tie for third in the conference.”

To even think SIU has a chance to finish the season in third or fourth place is amazing considering its early season struggles – two losses to open the season and one in each of its first three conference matches.

So, is Jeffrey surprised at how well her team has performed lately? Not at all.

“It’s not surprising to me,” she said. “It shouldn’t be surprising to our team either. We knew that we were better than how we did then. I expected us to do really well this year.

“Our first three loses were against teams that I thought were the first, second and third best teams in our conference.”

The three teams Jeffrey speaks of are Indiana State, SMS and Wichita State. If the SIU continues to play as it has, and things falls into place this weekend, the Salukis will be the third-best team in the conference.

Maybe then Jeffrey will get her just due.

Reporter Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]

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