Defending The Title

Ole Miss appears to be ready to defend its SEC title in men's tennis, if an 8-1 pre-conference mark is any indication.

Only old nemesis Georgia got past the Rebels in the early going this season, and that was in non-league action at the Naitonal Indoor Tournament. Now it's time for the serious stuff as Ole Miss plays at Vanderbilt Friday and Kentucky Sunday.

"We're gearing up for a big weekend, playing Vandy and Kentucky on the road," said Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick after his team beat Memphis 6-1 Tuesday in its last tuneup before conference play. "It will be two big challenges."

Chadwick likes the way his team has progressed to date.

"This is a young team, and I feel like they're developing and moving in the right direction," Chadwick said. "That being said, two SEC road matches to start off is not exactly what I would like. We'll have to be at our best to come away with a victory or two."

Chadwick said Kentucky and Vanderbilt are playing well themselves.

"Kentucky has beaten the No. 1 team in the country, Virginia," he said. "They're ranked No. 7 in the country. They're really good at their place. Vanderbilt has the best team they've had in four or five years. They have a freshman that plays No. 1 who pushed everybody down a notch, and they're one of the most improved teams in the country."

The Rebs have three newcomers who have contributed significantly. Harry Fowler, Adrian Forberg Skogeng, and Jonas Lutjen have been a large factor in the Rebels' success to date.

"Adrian is one of the most consistent players in the country, and Jonas is a great freshman," Chadwick said. "Harry continues to improve. To be playing with three freshmen and to be playing as well as we are, the guys are working hard, they're focused, and they're on the right track."

Junior Tucker Vorster is ranked No. 53 and sophomore Marcel Thiemann is ranked No. 81. The two have gone 11-5 at the top two positions. Sophomore Chris Thiemann is undefeated in dual matches at 8-0 and has clinched four of the Rebels' eight wins. Freshmen Lutjen and Forberg Skogeng have been a force in the middle of the lineup for the Rebels, with a combined 11-4 record.

Vanderbilt comes into the opening weekend of SEC play with an 8-3 record. They are coming off a 5-2 win over Middle Tennessee State last weekend. The Commodores are led by freshman Ryan Lipman, who is ranked No. 48 in the nation with a 6-4 mark at No. 1 singles.

Kentucky has its highest ranking since the 2003 campaign. The Wildcats are led by two of the nation's top players, eighth-ranked Eric Quigley and 37th-ranked Alex Musialek.

Ole Miss is heading into SEC play without its lone senior, Kalle Norberg. He hasn't played this semester and likely will redshirt due to a slowly-improving back injury.

"I've tried not think about a team without Kalle Norberg on it," Chadwick said. "Even without Kalle, this team is playing absolutely great. We're putting ourselves into position, and the guys are confident going into the SEC season, and that's great."

Also on Friday, the UM women's tennis team hosts Vandy at 2 p.m. Then on Sunday, the Rebels host Kentucky at noon.

Ole Miss is off to a 5-1 start on the season and excited about the start of conference play.

"We are looking forward to a great weekend," head coach Mark Beyers said. "The weather is supposed to be nice. We have two very good SEC teams coming to town, and we want to encourage everyone to come out and support us."

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