Rebel Redemption - SEC tourney champs!

Redemption. That wasn't all winning the SEC Tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., was about for the Ole Miss men's tennis team. But that was definitely part of it.

Ole Miss was the preseason pick to win the SEC. Early season losses to Georgia and Florida all but ended their title hopes. And it was still March.

The Rebels won all their other regular season conference matches. So when the time came to be able to redeem themselves and prove they were the best team in the league this season, they jumped at the chance to take advantage of it.

Playing their best tennis all season, second-seed Ole Miss rolled past tenth-seed Kentucky, third-seed Tennessee, and fourth-seed Florida to bring home the hardware.

"These guys had very high expectations," veteran head coach Billy Chadwick said of his team this season. "And now they are playing their best tennis."

As a team heads into postseason play, what else could a coach want?

For Chadwick, winning this trophy again had been a long time coming. The Rebels won it in 1997. They've been to the finals four times since then, including the most recent three.

But they hadn't been able to win the finale, which the past two seasons featured the nation's No. 1 ranked team at the time, Georgia.

That Florida beat top-seeded Georgia Saturday to pit the Gators against the Rebels may or may not have been the perfect scenario for Ole Miss. But it worked out well, obviously.

In either of the other semifinalists, you had the two teams that had beaten Ole Miss in the regular season. The Rebels lost at Georgia on March 2 and at home to Florida on March 21.

Both those matches were played outdoors. Because of bad weather, the Rebels had practiced and played up until those matches mostly indoors. There is quite a difference.

But when they got a chance at either of them again – and in this case the 12th-ranked Gators – the Rebels were outdoor-ready.

"We played really good doubles at every position all weekend," said Chadwick, who also has four SEC regular season championships to go along with his two SEC Tournament titles. "It just gives you such an edge going into singles."

And it deflates the opposition, especially when the team they're playing is as good as Ole Miss.

After they got the doubles point in each match, the Rebels never looked back. Junior Jonas Berg was named tourney MVP. At No. 4 singles, he lost only nine games in three matches and, like the team, is playing his best tennis.

"He's only lost one match all year, and that was at Tennessee when the overall match had already been decided," Chadwick said. "He has been outstanding."

At No. 1 singles, Erling Tveit played arguably his best match of the season, downing Greg Ouellette 6-4, 6-2. The Gator is currently ranked the No. 2 singles player in the country.

"It actually might have been the best match of his career," Chadwick said of the fourth-year UM senior.

Chadwick said sophomore Kalle Norberg's win over Tyler Hochwalt at No. 5 singles was, in his opinion, the difference in the match.

"Kalle won in straight sets today, and he had lost to the same player in the match in Oxford," he said. "This was a big turnaround for him to win this one."

But all the Rebels played well all weekend as a team - Matthias Wellermann, Robbye Poole, Jakob Klaeson, and Tucker Vorster, in addition to Berg, Tveit, and Norberg.

Injured veteran Bram ten Berge should be back for the NCAA Tournament in three weeks. Ironically, he had suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Rebels' match against the Gators in Oxford.

As is the case this time every year, the Rebels now wait. On an NCAA bid, and on being a host site again for rounds one and two. Both of those will be announced on April 29. The NCAA Regional is May 10-11.

They also wait to see how high they will be seeded. They are currently ranked sixth. It could be as high as fourth, according to Chadwick, depending on how things go elsewhere. UCLA is fifth and just beat No. 4 Southern Cal.

Virginia is unbeaten at No. 1. Ohio State is No. 2. Georgia is No. 3. Three of the Rebels' four losses this season are to those teams.

The other was to Florida. And as of today, the Rebels have certainly redeemed themselves quite nicely for all the above.

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