Berg, Norberg help UM in championship season

Ole Miss heads to Mississippi State on Saturday as the SEC Western Division men's tennis champion for the 6th straight season, and with a chance to take sole possession of second place in the SEC overall race. Unbeaten Georgia already has the overall title wrapped up.

Without newcomers Jonas Berg and Kalle Norberg, the Rebels would likely not have been in that position this spring.

Berg, a sophomore from Sweden, transferred to Ole Miss in January from Pepperdine. Norberg, a freshman from Sweden, also came to Ole Miss in January.

Ole Miss and State play at 1 p.m. at the Pitts Tennis Center, and the duo will again be a big part of the cause for the Rebels. Together they are a combined 34-1 this season in matches.

The lone loss between the two was last weekend as Norberg lost to his Georgia opponent. Other than that, they've been perfect.

"Jonas is a very complete player. He has an all-court game," said Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick. "Kalle is so much fun to watch and moves really well. If you were going to sum his game up it would be a great competitor with great hand-eye coordination, which spells a very good player."

Berg and Norberg have been mainstays at the Nos. 5 and 6 singles positions on the team this year. For some matches, mostly earlier, they played doubles together.

Most teams in the SEC and many of the Division I teams across the country have solid players at Nos. 1, 2, and even 3. But it's that great depth at the other three spots that will separate the teams. Berg and Norberg have been as close to automatic wins as any of the bottom singles players in the country.

"I was struggling a bit at first," said Berg, who had not played tennis for several months before arriving at Ole Miss due to mono. "I didn't play for half a year. It took me a while to find my game. I've got a lot of matches in me now, and I'm starting to feel good."

Berg played one season at Pepperdine in 2005. He helped lead the Waves to the NCAA Quarterfinals and a final national ranking of No. 8. The West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year at Pepperdine, Berg brings a solid game to Ole Miss just as a long line of Swedes have done here before him.

Chadwick has been recruiting Sweden for years, and Berg was one of those he tried to get to attend Ole Miss.

"Coach Chadwick recruited me before I went to Pepperdine," Berg said. "But after a season there and then getting mono for seven months, I couldn't go to school at that point. So I went back home (to Sweden). The coach there (at Pepperdine) didn't like that much, but that was my choice. I knew Alexander Hartman who played here (at Ole Miss). I decided to come here. My first goal was to get well, and then I decided to come here."

Norberg, who was ranked No. 2 in Sweden in under 18 and No. 100 in the ITF Rankings, played in the 2005 U.S. Open Junior Championships. There was the Swedish connection here for him as well, and he knew the tennis program at Ole Miss was one of the best anywhere.

"The crowds are large and supportive, and the facilities are so good," Norberg said. "I knew (current Rebel) Eric Claesson and (former UM players) Alex Hartman and Paul Ciorascu. I'm really enjoying my time here."

Norberg said the Florida match on March 2 in Oxford, which turned into one of those SEC thrillers, was one that stood out for him this spring.

"When we played Florida it was very exciting," Norberg said as the Rebels won in a controversial way with the umpire calling the match in favor of UM as the Gator player at No. 2 singles was disqualified in the match for being overruled five times; thus giving UM four wins and the overall victory. "I remember the crowd being so into it, and it was at night. It was really exciting and a big win for us."

In another of his dramatic wins, Norberg won the deciding singles match at Tennessee for the Rebels last weekend, a match which went down to the wire. With the win, the Rebels won the SEC West outright.

"Kalle got another huge win that day, and he showed why he's one of the best newcomers in the country," Chadwick said.

Chadwick knew the two would be great additions to the program and would help the team this year.

"We're very fortunate to have a player of Jonas' caliber on the team," Chadwick said. "He is a complete player with an all-court game and lots of experience. Kalle was the top recruit from Sweden (last year) and possesses a wealth of talent. He combines aggressive play with consistency and has a ‘clean' hit on the ball."

The duo got their first real taste of how competitive not only SEC matches are but also the rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State back in February when the two teams met indoors at the Mississippi Cup at River Hills Club in Jackson.

Ole Miss won the match, but that night the two newcomers barely got their feet wet in the instate competition. Berg teamed with Robbye Poole to win at No. 3 doubles. Norberg did not play doubles that night. In singles play the Rebels wrapped up the match 4-0 before Berg at No. 6 ever got on the court. At No. 5 Norberg was leading his MSU opponent 5-3 in the first set when the Rebels clinched.

MSU is 6-12 on the season and 3-7 in SEC play. Still, Chadwick said the Rebels, 19-3 and 8-2, are in for a tough match on Saturday. Ole Miss owns a 17-match winning streak against Mississippi State.

"It's a big match for us," he said. "Despite their record, they have a solid team. And in this league if you are not at your best, anything can happen. The guys know that if we want to host a (NCAA) regional, we need to go down there and take care of business."

With Berg and Norberg holding up things at the bottom of the lineup, and the veteran players working in the other spots, the Rebels have a solid chance to do just that come Saturday.

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