More To Accomplish

Billy Chadwick credits another Southeastern Conference team with giving the Rebels incentive to win this year's regular season league crown.

"Georgia forced us to do it," the veteran Ole Miss head coach said. "They gave us no margin for error. They were 10-1 in the conference."

That "one" was the key for both teams however. Back in the first league match of the conference season, Ole Miss beat the Bulldogs 4-3 in Oxford. Neither has lost since.

"One slip-up and the Dogs would be with us (sharing the regular season title)," Chadwick said. "But we didn't have one, and it's nice to win the title outright."

That first weekend was huge. Ole Miss beat Tennessee 6-1 two days after beating Georgia. Both had come in ranked in the top 5 nationally. Ole Miss was only ranked 10th at the time. After that weekend, the Rebels jumped to No. 3.

Then they had to travel to 23rd-ranked Alabama the next weekend, and Chadwick said those were all key matches early to get things rolling.

"It rained at Alabama and we had to play indoors," Chadwick said. "They are a great indoor team. We felt that gave them a huge advantage, and we had to fight as hard as we could to come out on top."

The Rebels beat the Crimson Tide 4-3 and two days later won 6-1 at 20th-ranked Auburn. The next SEC weekend was a test of more than just on-the-court battles. The match at seventh-ranked Florida on a Friday afternoon was delayed by weather, and the second-ranked Rebels' 4-2 win wasn't secured until the early morning hours of Saturday.

The Rebels never went to bed because they had a plane to catch in Orlando around daylight Saturday morning. They flew to Memphis, got home to Oxford, even practiced later on Saturday, tried to catch up on their sleep, then hosted South Carolina on Sunday. Ole Miss won 4-0, and Chadwick said that was a challenging sequence of events.

"To win at Florida is a very difficult thing to do anyway," he said. "Then we had the travel situation and had to play a 16th-ranked South Carolina team on Sunday. That's when the guys really responded and dug down deep."

Indeed they did. The doubles match against the Gamecocks was close and lengthy, and the Rebels prevailed. It was as if that took the wind went out of the USC sails, and the Rebels won 4-0.

Their last five matches against Kentucky and Vanderbilt at home and on the road at LSU, Arkansas, and MSU, were not that close as every one of them were either 5-2 or 6-1 final scores.

"The reason we were able to run the table was that we were ready to play every single match," Chadwick said. "That was a huge key."

The run that the Ole Miss men's tennis program has put together the last few years has been nothing short of amazing. The Rebels just claimed the program's fifth SEC regular season crown. The others were in 1996, 1997, 2004, and 2005.

In the last eight seasons, the Rebels have either won the title or finished second to Georgia. Obviously those are the two premier men's tennis programs in the league.

But Georgia is in the SEC East. Ole Miss is in the West. The league went to an East-West format in men's tennis only eight years ago. Ole Miss has won the SEC West every year.

If that's not enough, they travel to Auburn this weekend to defend the SEC Tournament title they won at Arkansas last April.

And while they haven't won a national title, they'll try again this year. They will host another NCAA Regional the second weekend in May. They will find out next Tuesday afternoon what their seed will be and who will be coming to Oxford to play in the Regional.

But all that can wait, according to Chadwick. There is much to be gained by winning matches this weekend, and claiming another SEC tourney title is the goal.

"These guys are going to work hard every single match," he said. "They have a lot of respect for every single opponent. That's one of the reasons we were able to go through the SEC with no slip-ups. They know that if we don't play our best, we can get beat."

But there's more, Chadwick said. Virginia is currently No. 1 in the country, and that's where the Rebels want to be.

"They'd like to win the (SEC) tournament again," he said of his players. "But the other thing is, these guys know that if we have a great run this weekend, we might just catch Virginia. The better we do, the higher seed we can possibly get. So there is a lot to play for."


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