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Men's and women's tennis to host NCAA Regional

Cain Madden/The Daily Mississippian

 

For the first time since 1999, both the men’s and women’s Ole Miss tennis teams will be hosting an NCAA Regional. 

The women, ranked No. 16 in the country, will be joined in their regional by No. 39 Rice, No. 20 Illinois and Southern University. The men, ranked No. 13 in the country, will host No. 22 Michigan, No. 46 Middle Tennessee State and Binghampton.

“We’ve been so close,” women’s head coach Mark Beyers said. “We finished 17th in 2010, and we were the first team to be a two seed. We were worried with some of the conference tournaments going on this week and that the same thing was going to happen -— that we were going to get bumped one spot and not get to host, but it all worked out in our favor this time.”

Men’s head coach Billy Chadwick was also excited about his team’s accomplishment.

“It is a fantastic feeling,” Chadwick said. “The guys and the girls have both worked really hard this year. We felt like we deserved to host, so it is a great feeling when it actually turns out the way you hope it will.”

Both teams were able to put together solid performances during the Southeastern Conference tournament, though losing in the semifinals, to help build their resumes and get to this point. 

The men finished the year at 13-8 overall with a 7-4 record in conference play, while the women finished 17-8 overall and 8-3 in conference play.

Now their attention turns to what both teams have been working toward all year, and both are thrilled that at least part of the tournament will be played on their home courts.

“We are excited,” senior Abby Guthrie said. “We can’t wait to finally be able to host.”

“We worked really hard for this and felt like we deserved it,” senior Gabby Rangel said. “To get to host our senior year is really special. We are going to take full advantage of it, and, hopefully, make it to the next level.”

Both teams feel that being able to host will be a big advantage for them and could propel them to Athens, Ga., where the NCAA Championships will take place.

“It is definitely an advantage,” Beyers said. “When you earn that ranking, you want to have every advantage possible. This makes things a lot less stressful where we can just focus on tennis and not have to worry about making up exams and things like that.”

“We are more confident playing on our home side,” senior Chris Thiemann said. “It is a great deal for us. Unfortunately, we have never hosted in my time here, so it is really nice to host the NCAAs.”

Now that it is crunch time for both teams, the coaches are happy to see that their teams are at the top of their game and ready to play.

“The team is working hard,” Chadwick said. “I really feel like they are at the top of their game right now. These guys, with the win over Florida, really put their mindset that they can do something and make the final 16 in Athens.”

Looking back over the season, both coaches feel like their teams had a moment when they knew that this goal of hosting was possible and that they would find themselves in the position they are in.

“I knew we were good,” Beyers said about returning from an early season road trip to Hawaii. “We had some young kids on the team like Erin Stephens and Julia Jones who are freshmen; I knew they were good, but I didn’t know how quickly they would develop. When we won the regional in Tallahassee for the indoors, I knew that was a huge first step for us. We beat Texas A&M and Florida State. Those are two solid teams, and when we beat those guys, I knew we could have a really good team.”

“I think the difference-maker was the win over Florida at the SEC Championships,” Chadwick said. “That was a top 10 win for us. We were knocking on the door with Virginia and Georgia where we almost got them, but we had not gotten over the hump. When we beat Florida, we felt like our chances of hosting were very good.”

Both teams will turn to their seniors for leadership at this time of the year. The women will look to four-time All-SEC first teamer Kristi Boxx, who is ranked No. 10 in the nation in singles. Boxx has also teamed up with fellow senior Guthrie to achieve a No. 6 ranking in the nation in doubles. Boxx finished the regular season at 10-1 in the SEC in doubles and 9-1 in the SEC in singles.

The men will turn to senior Marcel Thiemann, who was also awarded first team All-SEC honors this season. Thiemann finished his last regular season as a Rebel at 10-1 in SEC play.

The women will begin play against Southern University May 11, and if they win there, they will face the winner of No. 20 Illinois and No. 39 Rice. The men will start things off against Binghampton, and in the next round, they would face the winner of No. 22 Michigan and No. 46 Middle Tennessee State.