A Q&A With Per Nilsson

Mississippi State head men's tennis coach Per Nilsson talks with Gene's Page about the upcoming NCAA Championship first and second rounds that will be hosted by Mississippi State the weekend of May 10th through the 12th.

You host the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NCAA Championships on May 10th-12th. You play Austin Peay in the first round. Talk about the regional.
"Yes, we host the first and second rounds of the of a 64-team draw. If you can get through the first two rounds you go to the Sweet 16 with all the other teams at one site. Last year, we lost in the second round in a 4-3 match to Baylor. And we will have another tough one this weekend. But, hopefully, we will play to our level and get through it."

Last year you had a veteran team but this year half your team is made up of freshmen. And you are hosting again. You must be pretty proud of that accomplishment.
"Yes, it is two totally different seasons. Last year we were experienced, the guys knew what to do, there was a lot of management but the guys took care of a lot of things themselves. This year has been the complete opposite due to the new guys. You really have to stay on top of things.

"It's been a really up and down year but if you told me that we would be number 10 in the country at this time I would have probably called you crazy. But they've done well on the court and we are happy to be hosting."

How have the young guys improved over the course of the season?
"They weren't use to the training that we do due to coming from the Juniors. They've made huge improvements just from that every day, from the hard work and focus that it takes at this level. That's why they improved (so) fast once they got here. At the same time, they aren't used to it so it can get frustrating for them. They aren't used to how tough it is and how tired they get sometimes. That's what we have dealt with more this year, managing them and making sure they understand why we do what we do and how it's supposed to be done. And the results have really shown on the court for them. And that's really exciting."

It's obviously exciting for the freshmen to be hosting the first and second rounds. How exciting has it been for your veterans?
"They are more excited this year because it is another chance. They remember last year and will take something from that. We didn't get through the second round last year, so I know they are excited about another opportunity. Really, what the top teams are looking forward to is getting to that final site, the Sweet 16."

The veterans have something to prove don't they?
"They do. We had a great season last year but we felt like we should have won (the Baylor match in the second round). I feel like they are ready this year."

Do the freshmen understand this whole first and second round NCAA Championship thing?
"They don't quite get it as much as the other guys do because the other guys have been around March Madness and the baseball (regional) stuff. Because of that they understand it more and understand how big of a deal it is."

What was it like watching the selection show with the team?
"We had a get-together at Buffalo Wild Wings and it was really fun. We had a good time. We kind of knew what teams were probably coming. Harvard was one. And Austin Peay. We have never seen them play. We have played Samford. It's an exciting regional."

How will you go about scouting the teams that will play in your regional?
"The main thing is to focus on ourselves. I have to get my guys to play their tennis. If we do that then it doesn't matter who is on the other side. But we will try to find out a little about each team. We know about Samford since we have played them this year.

"But this is not going to be anything different than we have seen all year. We played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, 7th toughest in the country. So, we know what to expect. The guys just have to take care of their own business."

Playing such a tough schedule and being ranked number 10 in the nation at the end of the year is a special accomplishment in itself.
"Yeah, I looked at the schedule before the year and was a little worried due to having four freshmen. But it worked out well. I think it really benefited us playing so many tough teams. We made the National Indoors in Seattle, which was really big. And we had a good win there against a top 10 team. Hopefully, that will benefit us here."

You mentioned that it has been an up and down year, which would be expected with a team made up of so many freshmen. When did they hit that wall most freshmen hit and how did you help them move forward after hitting it?
"We have hit the wall about once a week this entire year. That's what it's like with a young team. They are inexperienced. Some of them are immature. It's always like that (with freshmen). But when you have four at one time, which is half of your team, it really showed. That's been the toughest thing this year, to manage that."

You had a freshman playing at the number 1 position for you this year. Was that new for you or has that happened in the past?
"That was the first time that it has happened for me. He has improved the most of anyone on our team. He wasn't even one of the better freshmen when he first came here. But he really benefited from our program on practicing hard every day and not leaving anything on the court. That has been his biggest improvement. And he quickly improved. We felt like he was playing the best on our team so we thought we might as well start him off as number 1. And he has done amazing. On the court he has been fantastic. He's number 6 in the nation right now."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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