Road to Tulsa has begun for Rebels

Shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, Matthias Wellermann served to his UALR foe waiting across the net. After the return, Wellermann's doubles partner, Bram ten Berge, immediately hit a winner between the two Trojan players. For 5th-ranked Ole Miss, the road to Tulsa had begun.

The NCAA Championships this season are in Oklahoma's second largest city. The Rebels began their quest for that elusive national title with a 7-0 win over Arkansas-Little Rock in the friendly confines of the Gillom Center's three indoor courts Thursday afternoon.

There weren't many fans there for this one. A large crowd is hoped for, even expected, on Saturday at 11 a.m. as the Rebels host 3rd-ranked Ohio State.

If Thursday was a warmup, then Saturday is the real thing.

"We got that first win," said veteran Ole Miss Coach Billy Chadwick after the Rebels moved to 1-0 on the season. "But the thing I liked was that they pushed us. Even though the scores look like they were pretty lopsided, we had to work hard at several matches."

But there were also several in this one that they didn't have to work too hard in. The Rebels bolted into singles play with comfortable wins at all three doubles positions. At No. 1, Wellermann/ten Berge won their pro set doubles match 8-4, the same score Jonas Berg and Kalle Norberg won by at No. 3. At No. 2, Robbye Poole and Jakob Klaeson had little trouble, winning 8-1.

In singles play, Poole at No. 3 and Berg at No. 5 were perfect, getting past their UALR opponents 6-0, 6-0. At No. 6, Norberg was solid, rolling 6-2, 6-1. You basically could say that about ten Berge at No. 4, who won 6-2, 6-4.

The rougher matches Chadwick was referring to came at the top of the singles lineup. It's normally that way when a highly-ranked team faces an outmanned opponent. Wellermann, playing at No. 2 singles, lost his first set 3-6 but overpowered his Trojan foe 6-2, 6-1 to take the match.

Erling Tveit, No. 1 for the Rebs, had for more than a week been battling a hip injury, which is much better now. Tveit sat out doubles but won his singles match in much the same manner Wellermann did – struggling early and dominating late for a 7-6(4), 6-1 win.

Tveit didn't play in last weekend's SEC Indoor tourney in New Orleans, which is an annual individual event, not a team event. Chadwick was pleased with his play in this one.

"This was a key match for Erling, because it was his first match of the spring," Chadwick said. "He moved fine and was able to win that tiebreaker in the first set. I think he's much more ready for the match against Ohio State than he was before today. I'd love to have rested him one more day. But we felt if we didn't get a match under him, he wouldn't beat an opponent like he will play Saturday. He was pushed today, and he responded."

This Rebel team, another in a long line of great teams Chadwick has courted in almost three decades at the helm, has a real shot to do some special things again this season. Win a national title this time around? That remains to be seen and won't be known for four months.

Tveit, in his fourth season at Ole Miss, knows all about teams that have a shot to win it all. He's played on three prior to this season and feels this year's Rebels have another chance at the big trophy.

"I don't know if this team is better than the others (at Ole Miss)," said the big, strong Norwegian. "We're deep again and have a lot of experience. Most of us have been together for three or four years. Our expectations are high again. It's going to be a fun year. There are several teams that can win it (a national title), and we are one of them."

Chadwick has been excited about having the Buckeyes here for weeks. The match has been promoted as the headliner that it is. He hopes the Rebels can make some noise in the collegiate tennis world early this season with what might be considered a slight upset win if they can pull it off.

He's looking for a big crowd of supportive Ole Miss fans to help them try to do just that.

"To have a team ranked third in the country here on our home courts, a team that finished third in the country last year, they know what big matches are all about," he said. "We've got a great opportunity, and our guys are really looking forward to it."

So is their head coach, as the road to Tulsa hits high gear come Saturday.

OM Spirit Top Stories