UM ready for Sweet Sixteen match with Tech

Ole Miss and Texas Tech play in the stadium, while LSU and Georgia play in the grandstand. The winners meet Sunday.

Billy Chadwick knows a few things about the NCAA Tennis Championships. He's taken many teams to them over the years.

Only once in all that time have the championships been held at Texas A&M. That was back in 2002.

It's returned this year to College Station. Although having only been there once for the big event, Chadwick learned a lot from that visit.

"I know it will be hot and I know it will be windy," Chadwick said. "And we know the competition will be outstanding. I think we're catching a little bit of a break playing the morning match (Saturday)."

The Rebels arrived Wednesday to get used to their surroundings.

"It's actually not just the surroundings," he said. "It's the environment, too. There's just an adjustment period. Had we left any later, we would not have had the time to adequately prepare mentally and physically for the tournament."

Chadwick said the Aggies' tennis complex is fairly new and very impressive.

"It's a very nice venue. It feels very open since it is so flat and spacious. You are constantly battling the wind. The courts are excellent. The seating is very conducive to a team match. They have a lot of courts. As a matter of fact, I believe they have 24 courts now. It's a huge complex."

The Rebels lost in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen the only other time the event has been played at A&M.

"We lost to Pepperdine in the round of 16," Chadwick said. "We had a shot to win it, but we just didn't finish. Cat played great that day."

"Cat" is obviously Catalin Gard, who was a freshman Rebel at the time. Now he is a senior who is leading the Rebels into the big event.

"We're really looking forward to it," Gard said of beginning play in the Sweet Sixteen. "We believe we are prepared to play well and to win. Hopefully that is the case."

The Rebels, now 23-3 on the year, certainly were last weekend as they beat Jacksonville State and Auburn in Oxford to advance.

The Red Raiders, in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1999 and in the program's first Sweet Sixteen, enter the weekend with a 25-3 record after beating Army (4-0) and No. 17 Wake Forest (4-1) in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championship in Lubbock last weekend. It is the first meeting between the 14th-seed Red Raiders and the third-seed Rebels.

The winner of the match will face the winner of the LSU-Georgia matchup (to be played at the same time Saturday morning on another set of courts) on Sunday in the round of the eight.

Chadwick always knows a lot about other teams in the national mix because the Rebels play most of them from time to time. Earlier in the week he didn't know much about Texas Tech because it is the first meeting between Ole Miss and the Big 12 team from Lubbock.

"I do know they are a very good team," he said. "They've been ranked as high as ninth in the country this year. They've only lost three times this year. It may not be a home crowd for them, but since it is in Texas they will have some support. Of course, it won't be like playing them in Lubbock either. It will be another difficult match. They will be like playing an SEC team."

The Rebs' No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles (along with Gard) player Eric Claessen was under the weather a bit last weekend and actually had to have an I-V after the Sunday win over Auburn. But Chadwick says Claesson is much better and he feels the Rebels are as fit as they can be headed into the heat of south Texas.

"I feel very fortunate to have all the players in the shape they are right now," he said. "We hope it remains that way."

Former Rebel Kristofer Stahlberg, now the head pro at Bayou Bluff Tennis Club in Gulfport, says he well remembers Texas A&M and the conditions there.

"I remember it was extremely windy, and we had to battle that the whole time," said Stahlberg, who was a senior in 2002 when the tournament was in Aggieland. "We were disappointed to lose in the first match to Pepperdine.

"A lot will depend on their fitness," Stahlberg said of this year's Rebs. "To play four matches in four days in that heat and wind will be a real challenge. You win one day and you move to the next day. Win again and you play the next day. That's quite a test for four days. I believe this year's team is playing very well and I look forward to keeping up with how they do each day."

Gard agrees that the Rebels enter the round of 16 with a lot of confidence and hope.

"We want to go all the way," Gard said. "Hopefully we will do that. Everybody is talking about winning the national championship."

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