Ole Miss, ranked 25th nationally, hosts Mississippi State at noon today. It's been a season of renewal for the Ole Miss program, which is on course to reach its first NCAA Tournament in four years.
There have been some big wins along the way this season, like winning its first home match of the SEC season against Alabama, then ranked 16th nationally, before heading to a west coast tournament and going 3-0 in matches vs. New Mexico, San Diego, and Utah.
Since then the Lady Rebels have gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. But the three victories have been noteworthy.
Ole Miss beat 14th-ranked Florida, won at 20th-ranked Kentucky, and defeated 16th-ranked LSU.
With a growing resume' the Lady Rebels want to finish out the regular season on a positive note, and that means with a win over MSU today.
"It's been a total team effort," Ole Miss head coach Mark Beyers said of the season. "Different times of the year different people have stepped up. It's obviously nice to have a freshman like Kristi Boxx who is 6-4 right now at No. 1 singles in this conference. From a depth standpoint, I don't feel we ever play against anybody at any position where we don't have a chance to win. I feel we have a chance to win at every position against anybody."
Beyers said the first SEC win over Alabama was a key to turning the season in the right direction.
"We won the doubles point, but at two and three singles, we were down match point at almost the same time. We came back and turned both matches around and ended up winning the overall team match 5-2. At the time Alabama was 9-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC and ranked 16th in the country, and to win that match was a big turning point."
They've beaten four teams ranked in the top 20, and Beyers said the Lady Rebel players have confidence they can win any match anytime.
"They now know they can beat those type teams," he said. "It's been fun to see that confidence grow."
The Lady Rebels enter the final regular season match 11-8 overall, 4-6 in the SEC. Ole Miss will honor senior Mimi Renaudin, who will be playing her final home match. She is the lone UM senior this season.
Beyers, assisted this season by Coach Jason Ontog, said his team knows the importance of closing out the regular season on a positive note.
"Any time you play Mississippi State you can throw the records out," he said. "They're going to come in here ready to play. They're coming off a great win over No. 16 LSU and they need this match for them to get in the NCAAs. We want to finish the regular season on a high note. We broke into the Top 25 this week, and we want to go into the SEC Tournament with some confidence."
Ole Miss has won 19 matches in a row against Mississippi State, and Renaudin says the younger players know what it means.
"Kristi understands it, because obviously she grew up in Mississippi," Renaudin said. "Everybody kind of gets it, but we've harped on it the last few weeks. We don't want to lose to Mississippi State."
To put the streak into perspective, the last time the Lady Rebels lost to Mississippi State (1989), the three freshmen on the team were not even born.
Mississippi State freshman Olesya Tsigvintseva was named the SEC Freshman of the Week, as she was instrumental in the Lady Bulldogs' 4-3 come-from-behind upset of 16th-ranked LSU on Sunday. The Lady Bulldog's are 10-8 overall and 1-8 in the SEC.
MSU is an improved team, and Beyers said his team must be focused and play its best.
"We always want to win and we always want to get better as a team," he said. "I'm happiest for the girls and how things have gone so far this year. They've worked so hard, and we want Mimi to go out on a positive note this season. We love the success, and I'm very proud of and excited for the girls."
*** Kim Ling of UM athletics media relations contributed to this story.
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