Boxx has winning weekend for UM tennis

Kristi Boxx had some solid support in Oxford this weekend. Her first home Ole Miss tennis tournament meant a lot of friends and relatives were here to watch her play.

"My whole family was here (Saturday)," she said Sunday afternoon while some of those same family and friends waited to visit with her at the Palmer-Salloum Tennis Center.

They weren't disappointed. The freshman won titles in doubles and singles in the Lady Rebel Fall Classic.

Boxx teamed up with sophomore Karen Nijssen Sunday morning for a 9-8(6) win over Martina Beckmann and Alida Muller-Wehlau of Armstrong Atlantic State in the A Flight doubles final.

After that, Boxx and Nijssen then faced off against each other for the A Flight singles title. The match went three sets, with Boxx prevailing 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 to move to 11-1 on the season.

Playing before family and friends, competing for Ole Miss, and winning matches are why she is here.

"I went to a tennis academy in Texas, and I wasn't able to see my family like at all for five years," said the Grenada native. "Being able to play here is nice. I get to see my grandma a lot more. And she cooks for me."

It was definitely home-cooking served up by the Ole Miss women's tennis team in this weekend's event, which included players from Arkansas, Mississippi State, Arkansas State, Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, South Alabama, Tennessee-Chattanooga, and defending Division II national champion Armstrong Atlantic State.

In addition to the success of Box and Nijssen, in the B draw freshman Gabriela Rangel defeated Armstrong's Muller-Wehlau 6-3, 7-6(3). With the title, she improved to 5-2 on the year.

"We won every draw that we had players in," Ole Miss head coach Mark Beyers said. "Any time you can do that, that's a very successful tournament. We are even more excited that we were able to do it at home. People got a chance to see the freshmen, who ended up winning the A and B draws. We have plenty to be excited about for the spring."

Indeed he does. As Beyers and first-year assistant coach Jason Ontog work to bring the Lady Rebel tennis program back to national prominence, the veterans along with the newer players give them a shot at doing just that. The future is bright.

"In winning the A doubles, we played really well," Beyers said. "We didn't play as great today, but we were able to come through and win. With Kristi and Karen playing each other, it's always hard to play your teammate and especially your doubles partner. It wasn't a great match, but I think they both had a hard time getting ultra competitive against their doubles partner. They have a great amount of respect for each other."

Beyers believes Ole Miss fans will like this team.

"I'm pleased we were able to play this well at home," he said. "That will hopefully get more people come out to see us play this spring. I think we're quite a ways ahead talent-wise of where we've been the last few years. The girls are really on the same page and cheering for each other, and that's important."

Boxx, who committed to Ole Miss after her sophomore year in high school, will be a draw for Ole Miss women's tennis for some time to come.

"She's off to a great start in college tennis," Beyers said. "She's a great ball striker. She's an all-around player. Her technique is fantastic. Her strength is that there really aren't any weaknesses.

"She's a great competitor," he continued. "If we can continue to improve her mental strength, she can be one of the best players we've ever had at Ole Miss. Being from only 45 minutes down the road makes it even more special."

Boxx said attending Ole Miss was a natural.

"A bunch of my family came here (to Ole Miss for college)," said Boxx, who had attended The John Newcombe Tennis Academy in New Braunfels, Texas, since shortly before she turned 13 years old. "I really didn't look anywhere else. There were lots of people (colleges) interested in me, but I really didn't look anywhere besides Ole Miss."

For Beyers, that basically made things easy when it came to recruiting her.

"That was nice," he said. "Doesn't always happen that way, but we love it when it does."

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