Billy Chadwick and the men's tennis team left about an hour before Ernest Ross and the men's golf team today, but they have an hour farther to go. Tennis is heading to Athens, an hour east of Atlanta; golf to Alpharetta, just north of Atlanta.
Men's tennis is in its usual position among the country's top 16 as they try once more for that elusive national title. The closest they've come was in 1995 when Stanford stopped the Rebels in the championship match also played in Athens.
The Rebels will tell you this much. Their immediate goals are two – to take one match at a time and to get back to those finals. They are already talking about making it to championship day next Tuesday for the first time in 12 years. They want another shot at No. 1 Georgia this year.
Yes, it would be played on the Bulldog's home courts. But that's fine with the Rebels. They can't think of a better place to win it all than in Athens.
"It may help us that the tournament is in Athens, since we've played there a lot. But I think it helps us even more that the tournament is being played down south," said Chadwick, whose Rebels meet Illinois Thursday at 12 noon eastern time. "If you're playing a team from the south, it probably doesn't help you any. Playing Illinois might help us a little bit. But that's not our biggest concern. Illinois is really good, just as they are every year. They've been in the top 10 all year. These will be two very good teams going head to head."
Chadwick said he really feels the Rebels are peaking at the right time.
"We played well at the SEC Championships," he said. "Then we had a break, and it was nice to see the guys pick it back up. They were at their best against Jacksonville State and South Alabama, and hopefully that will carry on to Thursday."
The format at the NCAA Championships is different now that the women and men play at the same site. That started last year. The winner of the Rebels-Illini match doesn't play until Saturday. The winner of that match plays again Monday. The finals are Tuesday.
Chadwick said the Rebels, with two of their four losses this season to Georgia and the other two losses to teams also in the field – Alabama and Virginia, have continued to stay the course throughout the long, grueling season.
"We've played through some adversity," he said. "Matthias Wellermann, one of our top three players, wasn't able to play most of the time (back problem). Bram ten Berg had a wrist problem and didn't play all year. Those things would have in most years moved us down from a top 10 team to a top 25 team. But this year the guys have really picked it up."
"Jakob Klaeson has really played well. The two new players, Jonas Berg and Kalle Norberg, have really done a great job. We have done what we had to do to have a very successful season again."
Oh yeah. About that possible matchup with Georgia again. Third time charm?
No. 1 Rebel Erling Tveit says the Rebs hope to take care of business to get to the finals. And if Georgia is there again, they will certainly be looking forward to it.
"We want to play Georgia in the finals," he said. "We like to play in Athens. Besides Oxford, it is the best place to play. The city, the tennis, the crowds. It will be fun this weekend."
*** Golf story on the Rebels and their trip to Georgia coming Wednesday. Ole Miss tees off Thursday afternoon at the Golf Club of Georgia.
Pair of UM teams hoping for glory in Georgia
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