Rebs tennis season ends in Final Four loss to UCLA

The Ole Miss Rebels fall one win short of the national title match.

*** From Kim Ling - UM athletics media relations:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 3 seeded Ole Miss men's tennis team ended one of the best seasons ever, in the NCAA Final Four, dropping a hard-fought 4-2 decision to the No. 7 seeded UCLA Bruins Monday, in the soaring 90-degree plus temperatures at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.

With the loss, the Rebels end the 2005 campaign at 25-4 and equal the 1997 team for most wins in a season.

The Rebels reached the Final Four for the fourth time, also making it in 1995, 1997 and 1999. They won the overall SEC Championship (10-1) for the second consecutive year and the SEC West for the fourth straight year.

UCLA (26-3) moves on to the national championship match to face the winner of the Baylor/Florida match Tuesday at 6 p.m.

"Obviously we are disappointed right now," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "We would love to be playing another day. We are extremely proud of this team. They worked hard all year, and we are SEC Champions and one of only four teams left standing. We definitely had a great year.

"Congratulations to UCLA, they are a very talented team who showed how good they are today, especially in the doubles. The doubles really set the tone for the match. If you look within the match, it probably hinged upon the tiebreaker at No. 6, which we led 5-3. If we get that first set, we are still out there playing."

UCLA won the doubles point to take the early 1-0 lead. The Bruins posted 8-3 wins at Nos. 3 and 2 doubles in that order to clinch the point. Ole Miss' Catalin Gard and Eric Claesson led the Bruin team of Alberto Francis and Kris Kwinta 6-4 at No. 1 doubles.

The Bruins upped their lead to 2-0 when Rebel freshman Bram ten Berge fell to the Bruin's Francis, ranked No. 109 in the nation, 6-3, 6-0 at No. 5 singles. Ten Berge finished his first season for the Rebels posting several singles wins, including Sunday's huge comeback at No. 5 to send the Rebels to the Final Four. He also was a part of 22 doubles' wins this season.

Ole Miss got on the board when junior Juan Pablo Di Cesare downed UCLA's Chris Lam 6-3, 6-2 on court four. Di Cesare, who had his best season in 2005, finished 21-3 in dual matches.

The Rebels tied the match at 2-2 when Gard, ranked No. 4 in the nation, handled Luben Pampoulov, rated No. 7 in the country, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 singles. Gard, the 2004 SEC Player of the Year, finished 24-4 on the season.

"We had a great year, but this one hurts," Gard said. "I wish there was something more I could have done for us to win. We played a very good team, and they played just a little better. We were close. Tomorrow, we can look back on the season and realize what we accomplished. To be one of four teams left playing in the country is very good. Hopefully I can do well in the singles and bring home a title."

Gard was instrumental in leading the Rebels to the NCAA "Sweet Sixteen" in his freshman year (2002) the NCAA Elite Eight in 2003 and now the Final Four his senior season. Gard finished 47-8 in two years at No. 1 singles in leading the Rebels to back-to-back SEC Championships and had a major hand in all four of their SEC Western Division titles as well.

UCLA regained the lead (3-2) when 85th-ranked Philipp Gruendler finished off Rebel senior Karim Alayli 7-6(5), 6-1 on court six. Gruendler led 5-2 in the first set, but Alayli won three straight games to tie it up. The set would go to a tiebreaker, which Alayli led 5-3, before seeing Gruendler win four straight points to claim the first set. Gruendler used that momentum to take the second set 6-1.

The Bruin's Benjamin Kohlloeffel, up a set (6-1) against Claesson, broke at 4-3 and then served out to clinch the 4-2 win for UCLA.

Freshman Erling Tveit had just split sets earlier against 60th-ranked Kris Kwinta, and was gaining momentum when the match ended. Kwinta won a close first set, 6-4, but Tveit came back to get the second, 6-1.

Tveit had an outstanding debut for the Rebels, finishing 21-2 in dual matches, including 16-2 at No. 3 singles. He went 9-2 in the SEC, which placed 10 teams in the NCAA Championships and six in the Final 16. In Sunday's quarterfinal match against Georgia, Tveit played No. 2 singles for the first time and won his match to help the Rebels reach the semifinals.

The season is not quite over for two Rebels, as Gard is the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Singles Championship, and he and Claesson will also participate in the Doubles Championship.

DOUBLES #1 Gard/Claesson (OM) vs. Francis/Kwinta (UCLA) 6-4, sus.

#2 Gruendler/Kohlloeffel (UCLA) def. Tveit/Aarum (OM) 8-3

#3 Lam/Pampoulov (UCLA) def. ten Berge/Klaeson (OM) 8-3


#1 Catalin Gard (OM) def. Luben Pampoulov (UCLA) 6-2, 6-3

#2 Benjamin Kohlloeffel (UCLA) def. Eric Claesson (OM) 6-1, 6-3

#3 Erling Tveit (OM) vs. Kris Kwinta (UCLA) 4-6, 6-1, sus.

#4 Juan Pablo Di Cesare (OM) def. Chris Lam (UCLA) 6-3, 6-2

#5 Alberto Francis (UCLA) def. Bram ten Berge (OM) 6-3, 6-0

#6 Philipp Gruendler (UCLA) def. Karim Alayli (OM) 7-6(5), 6-1

OM Spirit Top Stories