The 17th ranked MSU Bulldogs men's tennis team earned their fourth-straight NCAA Championship regional bid and will participate in the regional in Austin, Texas. Their first-round opponent is 62nd ranked Louisiana Lafayette.
This is your fourth-straight appearance in the NCAA regionals.
"It took us three years before we made the tournament. Since then, we have made it every year."
Despite making it the last four years, this team has a lot of guys on it that have never played in an NCAA regional. How do you prepare the new guys for this? I would assume they will have some butterflies due to this being postseason.
"We want them to have that. We want them to be on edge a little bit. I like it when they are a little nervous. It shows that they care. We want them to go through some routines that we taught them during matches so that they can get out of it. We have a couple of freshmen who are getting better at that and being able to play to their potential. But you don't really know until you get out on the court and play."
Considering you have so many new guys on your team, you must be happy that you were selected as a No. 2 seed?
"It is really exciting. We have a great group of guys who have been amazing. They have great chemistry. The way we do it, it's hard for anyone to come in here and go through the program that we put them through. But they have been awesome and it has been really fun. I think, because of that, we have done better quicker than we expected. We ran into the injury bug at the end that cost us a few matches, otherwise it could have been even better."
You play Louisiana Lafayette the first round. What are your thoughts about them?
"We have a tough match right off the bat. They are coached by a former teammate of mind, Mark Jeffreys, who is a legend here. He was a senior (at Mississippi State) when I was a freshman. His team has only lost four matches all year, so they are confident coming into the tournament."
Your No. 1 player is freshman Florian Lakat. Did Lakat surprise you how well he played this season as a true freshman?
"He did. It's a huge luxury to be able to put someone like him at No. 1. The experience that he is gaining is perfect for him and this team. We didn't think he would be playing 1 but he has that thing where the tougher competition is, the better he plays. Some guys shy away from that but he doesn't. It takes some guys a year or two before they feel like they belong there but he already feels like he belongs there. He's so motivated."
How does he compare to other great freshmen that you have had at Mississippi State? Is he one of the best?
"Mentally he is one of the best that I have ever had. And he could be physically as well. If you can put those two things together, then you can have a great player. And that is what we are trying to do with him."
What are your thoughts about going to the Austin regional?
"It's a really tough regional. Texas is the 7th or 8th ranked team in the country. We actually thought we might host and play one of the lower No. 1 seeds as a really high 2 seed. But you have to play what you get. You play like you have played all year, which is at your best level. If we don't do that, then we will get knocked out in the first-round. If we do play like that, then we will get though it. It's exciting to think about that."
You only have two seniors, which means you have most of your guys returning next year. You must be excited about.
"We do. And we've signed two players and hope to sign a third today. With those signees and the group that we have coming back, it looks like it could be one of the best groups that we have ever had here. Everything is going the way we want it to."
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 email@example.com.