Pushing Forward

With each passing match, a growing trend continues to emerge amongst the Ole Miss men's tennis team. Read about it inside.

Even with their backs against the proverbial wall more often than not this season, the Rebels are a resilient bunch. With four freshman playing integral roles, the team marched through SEC play, finishing unblemished with 11 conference wins to no losses, won three consecutive matches to claim a second-straight SEC Tournament crown, along with a stellar 24-2 overall record prior to the NCAA Regional.

Devin Britton, 17 years old when the semester began, has been matched up with some of the better players the country has to offer all season. He only responded with a total record of 20-9 and All-SEC Second Team honors.

The dynamic duo of seniors Jonas Berg and Bram ten Berge started the spring season slowly, but managed to accumulate 27 wins between the fall and spring, while finishing ranked No. 1 in the nation in doubles.

Then it should come as no surprise that, while they were sent to Baton Rouge despite being tabbed the No. 2 overall seed in the country, the Rebels would now find themselves in College Station, Texas for the Sweet 16.

"This team is one that doesn't shy away from a challenge," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "What makes them tough is they really bring their A game every day. This team is special. We really have all eight players playing as good as they can play."

First came Alcorn State, who the Rebels dispatched easily (4-0) in the first round Friday. LSU was up next after topping Rice earlier in the tournament, with the result the same.

A 4-2 Saturday finish marked victory for Chadwick and his bunch, with a trip to Texas A&M to face the Aggies up next.

"The crowd really gave us a boost and made a difference," Chadwick said of the atmosphere against LSU. "I don't know how many people the place sits, but half were Ole Miss fans. We were the home team. The higher seed is mandated as the home team, but we were basically LSU. One of the guys, I can't remember who, mentioned that we've beaten them twice at their place. We own that place.

"We had a good start in doubles largely due to the crowd. The people down there were shocked we had such a good following, but also with how vocal they were."

Against the Tigers, Ole Miss came out strong in the doubles to go up 1-0. Britton and doubles partner Tucker Vorster defeated Sebastian Carlsson and Julien Gauthier 8-4 at No. 2.

"Devin and Tucker, that's one of the better No. 2 doubles teams in the nation," said Chadwick. "They're really coming into their own. Tucker is a doubles specialist. Devin's style of play really suits doubles. Both of them are tall, around 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, and serve and volley well. They play a great power game. Those two coming into their own has been a key to our success."

In a battle between the nation's top two doubles teams, LSU's No. 2 ranked team of Michael Venus and Neal Skupski beat Berg and ten Berge 8-5. But Kalle Norberg and Otto Sauer finished off the point by topping Mark Bowtell and James Cluskey 8-5 on court three for their fifth win in a row.

The Rebels are 21-1 on the year when winning the doubles point.

"That was a great match at two doubles," said Chadwick. "All three doubles teams jumped on them early. We were able to take them at two and three. Great doubles on the part of our guys."

LSU evened the match when Sebastian Carlsson defeated Sauer 6-3, 6-1 at No. 4 singles. They took a 2-1 advantage when sixth-ranked Venus defeated Berg 6-1, 7-6 at the top spot.

But like they have all season, Ole Miss answered.

Consecutive wins from the freshmen twins of Chris and Marcel Thiemann at the bottom two courts led the way, as the Rebels advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the 15th time – including each of the last five years.

"We got the twins playing five and six, so it was like playing bookends. They won in straight sets," Chadwick said of Chris and Marcel. "They give us great depth. They have stepped in and time after time and shown they're two of the best players in the conference. They give us a great punch in the bottom of the lineup."

Now the team faces the difficult task of topping the 15th-ranked Aggies at home.

Texas A&M stamped their place in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 with a 4-0 shutout victory over 24th-ranked Arizona Saturday. It will be the Aggies eighth all-time appearance in the Sweet 16 and the first meeting between the schools since 2003.

"We feel we match up well top-to-bottom with them," Chadwick said. "We know they're tough, especially at home. It's going to be one heckuva match. Beating LSU in Baton Rouge has gotten us better prepared. It was hot. I don't know what the temperature actually was, but it was well within the 90s.

"But these guys refuse to lose. This team is very excited about taking Texas A&M on. It will be a packed house, with several thousand expected to be there."

The Aggies are led by senior All-American Conor Park, who delivered two service aces in the deciding match against Arizona.

Texas A&M leads the all-time series against Ole Miss 3-1.

"They are really strong at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles. We're really going to be looking at Bram and Jonas to be at their best," said Chadwick. "LSU matched up well with us at No. 1 doubles. They've given us trouble all year long. We knew going in that we had to take No. 2 and No. 3. Going into A&M, we need to take No. 1 doubles."

While Thursday's matchup with A&M will certainly be a challenge for the Rebels, the road won't be any easier if they're able to advance.

No. 7 UCLA (19-4) could be waiting in the Elite Eight if the Bruins are able to top Miami (16-8) later in the day.

"The NCAA couldn't have made it any harder than going to Baton Rouge, then Texas A&M and then possibly UCLA," Chadwick said. "But our guys are taking it head on. These guys are really excited and really believe in themselves. They're a close-knit group. They all are confident in each other. They play off that, which makes the sum greater than the parts. They're a great group."

And a determined one at that.

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