STARKVILLE — George Coupland had a strong feeling the Mississippi State men”s tennis team would land in Atlanta for the first round of the NCAA tournament.
When the selection show confirmed the No. 21 Bulldogs” destination, Coupland couldn”t help but focus on host team Georgia Tech.
The Bulldogs (13-8, 8-3 Southeastern Conference), though, will open play against Florida State at 9 a.m. May 13.
For Coupland, there”s something to prove against the No. 15 Yellow Jackets, who beat the Bulldogs 4-0 on Feb. 5.
In that match, the team”s third of the season, Coupland battled the flu and bronchitis. Doctors advised him not to travel, while coaches wanted him to go to the match. Coupland lost 6-4, 7-4 to No. 12 Guillermo Gomez in the No. 1 singles. He also teamed with James Chaudry in a 9-8 loss to the No. 8 doubles team.
“I”ll never forget the Georgia Tech match,” Coupland said. “It was impossible to play a rally over three shots because I couldn”t breathe.”
Coupland stressed the importance of the team playing up to its potential, much like it did when it won eight of its final 10 matches and lost two matches 4-3.
Georgia Tech must get by Middle Tennessee in its first-round match to set up the second-round tie Coupland and his teammates are looking forward to.
“We feel better than ever before about the chance to play Georgia Tech,” Coupland said. “We felt that would be the best possible draw for us. I think the guys are going to step up to it. If we get by Florida State, we feel very, very confident about winning that match.”
MSU”s at-large selection marks the 20th NCAA berth in the program”s history, the 16th since the dual-match team format began in 1977. The Bulldogs will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
The program was a postseason mainstay in the 1990s, reaching the NCAA tournament 15 straight times from 1991-2005. In those 15 years, the Bulldogs reached the round of 16 11 times, and made it to the Final Four twice.
“Me and (assistant coach) Matt (Hill) had been through it before, but this team had never seen a selection show before,” MSU coach Per Nilsson said. “They were hooting and hollering over where some teams were going. We were one of the later regions to be announced, so it was fun to see their reactions about some SEC teams being sent certain places. It was fun and exciting for them to be a part of it.”
The Bulldogs own three wins against top-25 opponents and five, 4-3 losses to top-10 opponents this season.
Nilsson is confident the Bulldogs” 4-2 loss to the University of Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament wasn”t a sign of diminishing form. He feels the team is only lacking consistent doubles play.
MSU has four singles players nationally ranked, led by Coupland, who is 50th. Juniors Artem Ilyushin and Louis Cant are ranked 63rd and 83rd, respectively. Freshman Malte Stropp is 95th.
“I feel we match up well with anyone; it all comes down to how we”re playing that day,” Nilsson said. “Are we showing up in doubles? If we show up in doubles and get the doubles point, we can beat the number one team in the country because we”re so strong in singles. It also helps if we lose in doubles we can come back on anyone. We have to practice hard this week and prepare.”
n Ole Miss draws UC Irvine in first round: At Oxford, The University of Mississippi men”s tennis team earned its 18th consecutive NCAA tournament bid and will continue its season in Los Angeles for the first and second rounds.
Ole Miss earned the No. 2 seed and will face UC Irvine in the first round at noon Friday, May 13. UCLA is the No. 1 seed and will meet Binghamton in the first round. The winners will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14, for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 on May 19-24 in Palo Alto, Calif.
This marks the 20th overall NCAA appearance for Ole Miss, which has made the tournament every year since 1994.
“It”s always exciting to be going to California, especially with the bracket that we”re in,” Chadwick said. “We get to face UC Irvine first. We are familiar with their top players. They”ve got a very good team. UCLA is always one of the top teams in the country, and the last time we played them it was a very close match.
“We”re looking forward to going to Hollywood.”
The Rebels finished the regular season 12-8 despite playing without senior Kalle Norberg most of the season. Norberg has missed 10 matches with a foot injury and only been available in singles or doubles for the other matches. With Norberg on the sidelines, the Rebels have relied on the leadership of senior All-Southeastern Conference honoree Tucker Vorster.
UC Irvine finished the regular season 19-7 and won the Big West tournament to receive the automatic bid. This is the Anteaters” second straight NCAA appearance.