STARKVILLE — Before the Mississippi State men”s tennis team begins league play, it will face a couple of tough measuring sticks this weekend in Texas.
No. 33 MSU will face TCU at 3 p.m. today and No. 11 Baylor on Sunday in an attempt to build on shutout wins against Tulane and the University of Alabama at Birmingham two weeks ago.
“Baylor doesn”t usually lose at home,” MSU head coach Per Nilsson said. “It”ll be a good one.”
Nilsson hopes the Bulldogs can return to the form displayed in the dual opener to No. 10 Texas A&M, when they took three singles matches in a 4-3 loss.
But MSU finished 1-8 against ranked opponents Georgia Tech and Ole Miss. While there”s plenty to encourage Nilsson, he”s concerned about his team”s lagging doubles play against quality competition. The Bulldogs lost seven doubles matches prior to sweeping Tulane and UAB, and claimed just one — a No. 3 slot win — against Texas A&M.
“We hadn”t found our partners,” Nilsson said. “We”re still working on that. We”re trying to find three teams that jell well where we feel like we have a chance.”
Baylor is 15-3 in dual doubles play this season.
Nilsson is keen on junior No. 1 George Coupland (8-5) and junior No. 2 Artem Ilyushin continuing their solid play in singles. Ilyushin has won three straight matches. His loss at Georgia Tech was a three-set tiebreaker.
Nilsson wants the doubles partners to push each other more in practice and to fight for the No. 1 position. He thinks both started the season as No. 2 players, and felt both could progress to being the lead player.
“We weren”t sure how that was gonna go,” Nilsson said. “No one was showing who was going to play one. But after this week, both of them are gunning for number one showing they can handle it. They understand they both have to play like that against each other.”
Both players” contrasting builds and skill sets saw them play uncharacteristic of their attributes, Nilsson said.
Coupland, who is 6-foot-6, was playing too passively and not putting his wingspan to good use at the net.
At 5-foot-7, Ilyushin had to learn to steady his game and to dictate.
“George has always tried to do that, but now he knows and trusts in that,” Nilsson said. “Artem”s got to move the opponents on the court to set up plays. He”s improved his serve and got good plays he”s setting up points with. We”ve been strong at three, four, five, but with those two guys playing well we”re that much stronger.”
Women”s golf opens spring play Sunday
Down a player, the MSU women”s golf team enters the Sir Pizza Cards challenge looking to flash its improved short game and overall form for the first time since November.
The Bulldogs begin play Sunday at the Weston Hills Country Club in Weston, Fla.. They will play through Tuesday. The three, 18-hole round structure will allow MSU to practice in between rounds.
Coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said the combination of her golfers” desire to get back to competition and great weather at practice has made for a heated qualifying week.
“Who wouldn”t want to get on that plane to go play in Miami?” Brown-Lemm said.
Seniors Erika Thornton and Mallory Batson hold the top two spots in the lineup, while Maria Roos, Perry Katherine Furr, and Mary Langdon Gallagher also will make the trip.
Furr, who played two events in the fall, will try to lock down a full-time spot.
Freshman Esther Huffman, who had the team”s third lowest average in the fall, is out with a wrist injury and won”t make her spring debut until next week. She slipped on ice recently and damaged a nerve, which has been treated. She hit irons and worked on the driving range at Old Waverly this week, so Brown-Lemm is confident she”ll make the team for the LSU Golf Classic.
Her absence in Florida will hurt given the Bulldogs” lack of depth.
“It”s part of the deal,” Brown-Lemm said. “You deal with injuries and move on.”
Louisville, Kansas State, and Florida International will be the top teams in the opener, Brown-Lemm said.
She hasn”t seen the course, but said typical Florida courses are flat. She has put her team through plenty of work in the bunker, where she hopes extra attention paid to the short game will pay off.
Brown-Lemm also said both golf programs are in “Phase 2″ of their practice facility development, which will be at the MSU golf course. MSU is the only SEC school without a team building, but the $500,000 project will allow the team to practice in bad weather.
MSU will hold the first edition of the Maroon Tee Classic, an amateur golf tournament to unveil plans for the building, on May 2.
The Maroon Tee Club — the official booster club started by Brown-Lemm and men”s golf coach Clay Homan — is organizing the event.
MSU sprinters to compete at USA Indoors
Three MSU sprinters are primed to compete at the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
Sophomore sprinter and 2010 All-American Tavaris Tate will compete in the open 400-meter event. The Starkville native holds MSU”s indoor record in the 400.
Freshman James Harris and junior D”Angelo Cherry will join Tate. Harris will compete in the 400 and in the high jump, while Cherry, who set a USA Junior record at the same meet in 2009, will compete in the 60.
“I think all three of them have a chance to make the finals,” MSU coach Steve Dudley said. “I think Tavaris has a real good chance of winning the U.S. Indoors, which would be unbelievable for a sophomore in college.
“D”Angelo has already performed on the big stage, taking second two years ago as a freshman. He”s starting to run a good bit better, so we”re excited.”
Cherry hopes to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 60. He has the USA Indoors and the Last Chance Meet on March 4 to qualify.
Tate is qualified for NCAAs in the 400, and could run the 200, 400, and anchor the 4×400 relay on March 11.
Harris and fellow freshman Deaundre Barnaby are still looking to qualify in the 400.
MSU likely will field Tate, Harris, Barnaby, and senior Emanuel Mayers in the 4×400 at the NCAAs.
Freshman Randy Patterson and junior O”Neal Wilder, who had corrective hip surgery in December, could also challenge for 4×400 spots for the NCAAs.
“We”ve kind of switched out guys at different meets, which has helped some guys develop because we have some depth this year,” Dudley said. “In past years, we”d maybe had a fourth or fifth guy, now we have six or seven.”
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