Rebels ready to host another tennis regional

The Ole Miss men's tennis players were working out at the Palmer-Salloum Center under a hot Mississippi sun on Wednesday. That Regional feeling was in the air. It usually is this time of year.

Only once since the host-site NCAA Regional Tournament format was implemented in 1999 has Ole Miss not gotten a bid to host. That was in 2000 when the Rebels had to travel to Virginia Tech.

Seven years running now and eight of the past nine seasons, Ole Miss has put on a show at home in this event as the invited guests are treated royally – except, of course, when the ball is tossed skyward, and a powerful serve signals play. Then they are treated as the enemy.

The Rebels haven't always won this event when they host. In 2001, a powerful Southern Cal team eliminated Ole Miss on day two of the Regional at Oxford. In 2004, it was eventual national runnerup Vanderbilt that left Oxford with a Regional title and the Rebels packing things up for the year.

Playing at home doesn't mean automatic victory. But it does help, all things considered.

"It's great that we're playing here," said All-SEC first-team selection this season, Robbye Poole, a junior. "Everybody's on our side. We haven't lost at home this year, so we want to keep it going."

The Rebels are the 7th-seeded team nationally and the top seed in the Regional here. They are 22-4 overall with losses to Georgia (twice), Alabama, and Virginia.

Their opening-round foe is Jacksonville State of Alabama. JSU comes into the Regional at 16-6 overall. The Gamecocks are making their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and their second appearance against the Rebels in Oxford in this event. Jacksonville State dropped a 4-0 decision to the Rebels in the 2005 Regional.

Ole Miss and Jacksonville State will play at 4 p.m. Friday. In game one of the Regional, Minnesota and South Alabama meet Friday at 1 p.m.

This is Minnesota's 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 14 years and its 19th overall. The Golden Gophers (15-9) have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen three times (1996, 1998 and 2000).

Second-seeded South Alabama (21-4) is making its 11th NCAA appearance. This is the first postseason appearance for the Jaguars since 2004.

"We definitely have to worry about the other teams," Poole said of the Regional field. "We haven't played any of them, so we don't really know what to expect. We have to go out and take care of business."

Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick, whose team is in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight time and the 16th time overall, said he is excited about another weekend of postseason tennis in Oxford.

"It's fun, but there's work to be done," Chadwick said. "We expect the crowd to help us get that work done."

Chadwick has taken Ole Miss men's tennis teams to the national title match (1995, a loss to Stanford for the NCAA Championship), to four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights, and 11 Sweet Sixteens. The Ole Miss Rebels are a household and prominent name in collegiate tennis.

But Chadwick says that won't mean much for this year's team. It's a fresh start for everybody involved, and there is experience for all the teams coming in.

"The thing that we know is that every team coming here is good or they wouldn't be here," said Chadwick, who took Ole Miss to its first NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament in 1989, a 5-1 loss to Miami (Fla.) in Athens, Ga. "Jacksonville State is solid, and we can't look past them. Minnesota is one of the top teams in the Big Ten and in the Midwest with a senior-laden team. South Alabama is one of the most talented teams in the country. They could play in the SEC. They beat Mississippi State."

The Rebels' No. 1 player, Erling Tveit, said the team knows what it wants to do and that's to advance as far as possible. The winner of the Regional in Oxford advances to the Sweet Sixteen in Athens, Ga., beginning Thursday, May 17. That would mean they'd be four wins away from the national championship.

"We've worked hard, and I believe we're ready," said Tveit, a junior who, like Poole, was named first-team All-SEC this season. "We're as ready as we can be for a run. Hopefully we can get through these first two matches so we can move on to Athens."

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