Lady Reb tennis team heads to SEC tourney

The Ole Miss women's tennis team headed to Lexington, Ky., Tuesday for the SEC Tournament. The 10th-seeded Lady Rebs play 7th-seeded LSU Thursday morning at 9 o'clock central.

To say it's been a tough season would be an understatement of monumental proportions. Blame it on injuries, because that's the main reason. There were times that the team, which finished the regular season 5-17 overall and 1-10 in SEC play, could not even fill out a lineup to play three doubles matches and six singles matches.

During one non-conference trip to Baylor and TCU, the Lady Rebs were able to put only two of three doubles teams on the court for each match and only four of six singles. Needless to say, they lost to both.

There were wrist problems and foot injuries. Basically from head to toe, this season had most of the Lady Rebels in the training room more than on the playing court.

Through it all the players and coaches tried to maintain a positive outlook, knowing every time they played they were at a disadvantage. In their last regular season match, the Lady Rebels beat Mississippi State in Oxford to give them some momentum heading to the SEC tourney and also to continue the dominance over the arch rival. Ole Miss now leads the alltime series 44-5.

"We feel as good about things as we have all year," UM head coach Mark Beyers said. "It's always good to come off a victory heading into the tournament. I think we're a little healthier than we've been and that's good. It's always nice to beat Mississippi State, and that was something we needed. If we had been healthier, we'd have had a better year."

Beyers said it's been a season like no other.

"You feel helpless at times," he said. "You want all your players out there competing, and then you can honestly see who is the better team. Our main goal right now is to do as well as we can in the SEC Tournament, and get the people who were hurt back healthy so we can have them in the fall. We need for them to contribute next year and get their rhythm back and their confidence back."

One of the healthy players this season was senior Ilona Somers, who was named second-team All-SEC this week.

"Ilona has a chance to play in the NCAA (Individual) Tournament," Beyers said. "We want her to have that opportunity and for her to do as well as she can there. She's been the one player who hasn't been bothered by injury. She's won a lot of matches and has a winning record at No. 1 singles. In the SEC, that's a tremendous accomplishment. She's ranked 39th nationally and that's great."

Somers said it's been tough for the team, and she's tried to stay focused and play her best while leading the troops.

"I played some good matches with some consistency," she said. "It went well for me. I took every match as a challenge. I played good players every match, and I love that type competition."

Somers said at times it was difficult to stay focused with the team suffering through injuries and losses.

"I kept thinking that I had nothing to lose. It was my last year, and I tried very hard to enjoy it," she said. "I stayed positive and tried to lead. I'm really proud of the girls that we stayed together and kept working hard. It wasn't always easy, and we just had to take it one day at a time."

Somers said beating Mississippi State, which finished 5-13 and 1-10, was special.

"It was a great day," she said. "They are not a bad team, and they give a lot of effort. It was great for me to end my season winning in both doubles and singles. It was my last day here, and I was glad to win. Now it is on to the SEC Tournament."

And hopefully for her the NCAA Tournament after that.

"I am just focused on the next match," Somers said. "My next opponent from LSU is ranked second in the nation. I'm just going to try and do my best, play hard and see what the result is. Then maybe I will make it to the NCAA."

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