Ole Miss will send its men's tennis team to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and its women's tennis team to Gainesville, Fla., this weekend in search of wins and titles.
The men have a greater shot to win a title than the women. Their goals may be a little different, too.
The Rebels enter the tournament tied for second with Florida and behind undefeated champion Georgia. But the Rebels get the No. 3 seed since they lost the regular season head to head match with the Gators in Gainesville. Ole Miss, set to play Friday morning, awaits the winner of Thursday's Arkansas (6th seed) and Vanderbilt (11th seed) match.
The Lady Rebels are the No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed South Carolina Thursday morning.
Erling Tveit got the Rebels' first honor of the week following their win over Mississippi State Saturday. The sophomore was named SEC Player of the Week, the league office announced Tuesday.
Tveit rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the third set against Mississippi State's Pierre Mouillon to clinch the victory and the Rebels' fifth consecutive outright SEC Western Division Championship. Down 5-6 in the third set tiebreaker, Tveit won four straight points to secure the victory. He also teamed with Eric Claesson to win 8-4 at No. 1 doubles.
The Rebels have won 17 straight against Mississippi State, and Tveit clinched both wins against them this year.
"The SEC is the strongest tennis conference in the nation, and it is a tremendous honor for Erling to be named the player of the week," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "His hard-fought comeback victory was the deciding factor in our winning the SEC West Championship for the fifth year in a row."
Tveit heads into the upcoming SEC Tournament ranked No. 22 in the nation with a 16-3 record at No. 1 singles. He finished 8-3 at No. 1 singles and 9-2 at No. 1 doubles in the SEC.
Chadwick, whose lineup this weekend will be Tveit at No. 1, Claesson at No. 2, Bram ten Berge at No. 3, Juan Pablo DiCesare at No. 4, Robbye Poole at No. 5, and Jakob Klaeson at No. 6, says he feels good about how the Rebels are playing right now and he's hoping for continued solid play this weekend.
"Well first of all, it certainly feels good to beat Mississippi State again," he said. "We've played well against them for a good while. I'm very pleased with the guys. They've done a very good job taking care of our biggest rival."
Same could be said for the Lady Rebels who beat MSU, just like the men, for the 17th straight time.
The Rebels are in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this weekend. Not so for the Lady Rebs. They feel they must win at least one match to get off the NCAA bubble.
"I feel pretty sure one win will do it," said head coach Mark Beyers. "I believe South Carolina is already in. If we beat them, I believe that will do it for us."
But just to make sure, the Lady Rebs would like to win more matches for insurance. One player who has stepped up big for them this season is freshman Kseniia Tokarieva, who clinched the win Saturday by downing MSU's Renee' Joseph 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 singles. She improved to 2-1 at No. 1 singles and finished 8-3 in the SEC. She is now a combined 29-5 in singles and doubles.
The men want some insurance as well, but for another reason. Hosting an NCAA Regional has become common for the Rebels, and they want to do so again. Chadwick says losing quickly in Tuscaloosa would hurt the cause.
"I think we need to win two matches just to make sure," said Chadwick, noting the obvious goal is to win the SEC tourney. "We'll take them one match at a time. When you face the competition we do every match, that's all you can do."
In the past there were some formulas for hosting. It was usually the top 12 and then an at-large four teams determined by certain criteria.
This year for the first time the NCAA will strictly select the top 16 teams in the country to host Regionals. A committee like the one for the basketball tournaments will determine who those 16 are; thus the importance of banking more wins this weekend.
"There may be 40 teams across the country that are worthy of consideration (for a top 16 spot), and there is a real logjam at Nos. 10-20," Chadwick said. "I haven't seen this much balance and this many good teams all over the country in years. We just need to go over there (to Tuscaloosa) and win some more matches."
Beyers feels the same way about his team's trip to Gainesville. But for the Lady Rebs, the first step is to try to win their way into the NCAA Tournament field for the second straight year.
"It's been an up and down year for us," said Beyers, whose team was left out of the NCAA Tournament in 2003 and 2004 and found out each time they were the last team marked off the list. "There's been some upsets and close matches this season. The league and all of college tennis are more balanced. The bubble hasn't been kind to us in the past. We want to win our way off it if at all possible."
In other spring sports news concerning SEC Tournaments, the Lady Rebel golf team returned home a couple of days ago from its league championships in Nashville with a 12th-place finish for the second straight year. Last year's event was hosted by Ole Miss in Tunica.
The Ole Miss men golfers head to the SEC Championships at St. Simons Island, Ga., for their event which begins this weekend. It appears the Rebels have a decent shot to get into the NCAA Tournament field. They likely need to have a good showing this weekend to make sure.
Junior Kyle Ellis leads the Rebel golfers to the tourney, followed by sophomore Jamie Howarth, freshman Larry Blatt, sophomore David Marino, and freshman Will Roebuck.
The men's championships begin Friday and fans can follow the action by going to www.golfstat.com and clicking on the SEC Golf Championship section.
Tennis, golf have big weekend
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