STARKVILLE — Disgusted and downtrodden, the Mississippi State women’s tennis team needed a boost.
MSU lost 5-2 to Auburn March 24 for a three-match losing streak and that was the last straw for the coaches and players. They went back to the hotel and had a team meeting to get things out in the open and figure out how they were going to approach the rest of the season.
“That loss was kind of a wake up call that we can do so much better and we deserve better because of the amount of practice that we put in,” senior Georgiana Patrasc said. “We needed to find some ways to pull it out and to come through as a team together.”
The meeting seemed to help because MSU swept Alabama 7-0 that following Sunday for its first win in Tuscaloosa since 1999. MSU lost its next match to Vanderbilt but won a school-record four-straight Southeastern Conference matches down the stretch to finish with the most SEC wins in school history and a winning league record for the first time since 1989. No. 21 MSU (16-7, 7-6 SEC) plays No. 32 Arkansas (16-12, 5-8) 10 a.m. today in the SEC championship in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The winner moves on to face Vanderbilt.
After opening SEC play with a 6-1 win over Tennessee, MSU lost to Georgia (5-2) and Texas A&M (5-2). But MSU put those losses behind it and beat then-No. 15 LSU 4-3 for the program’s first road win over a top 15 team and the first win in Baton Rouge since 2005.
It was an emotional win, but it didn’t carry over. MSU lost its next three, South Carolina (4-3), Florida (4-0) and Auburn.
“We were urging them to kind of believe in themselves a little more because they’re a talented group and they put the work in,” MSU coach Daryl Greenan said. “We needed to kind of nudge them to keep looking to trust themselves and step up when we get the opportunities.”
Greenan said he has been cautiously optimistic all season long, so he wasn’t surprised when the Bulldogs won five out of the last six and showed poise. MSU overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Kentucky (4-2), snapped a 26-match losing streak to Ole Miss (5-2), beat Missouri (4-1) and took down Arkansas (5-2).
Patrasc said they talked about things they needed to change as individuals and as a team in that meeting.
“I think it was a lot of staying in the moment and doing the right stuff you have to do, first of all for yourself,” Patrasc said. “You play your own match, nobody else plays for you. After that just supporting your teammates and doing a better job of giving your teammates confidence that they can count on you and rely on you in tough situations.”
Greenan said youth played a role in the poor play early in the SEC season. Patrasc, who has lettered three seasons, is the only senior and junior Jasmine Lee came to MSU as a sophomore. Sophomores Jennifer Brown, Madison Harrison and Kristina Vozniak and freshman Anatasian Rentouli learned as the season progressed. Brown and Vozniak transferred to MSU after spending seasons at Oaklands College and Stony Brook, respectively.
Even with a young, inexperienced team, Greenan never doubted them.
“What helped me believe in the team was just that they put the work in and they showed up every weekend, showed up and kind of put it all out there on the court,” Greenan said. “Maybe they lacked a little courage early on but they kind of made up for that the end. I kind of saw it coming because I had confidence. They gave me that confidence because every weekend I just knew what to expect. Nobody was going to lay down and die, everybody had their hearts in it.”
Greenan said the the league is stacked this year and it won’t be easy to beat the Razorbacks for a second time. However, the ending to the season has rejuvenated the Bulldogs and gave them a different perspective for postseason.
“I think we have great confidence going into (the) SEC tournament because we have done things this year that haven’t been done (for a while),” Patrasc said, who is 9-2 in SEC singles matches. “I think we just kind of expect to do what we’ve been doing and play the way we’ve played.”
Greenan said his team is in solid position to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but said hosting is not out of the realm of possibilities. He said the Bulldogs will have to make a deep run this week to host, but believes anything is possible with his team.
MSU wouldn’t be in this situation if it weren’t for that meeting in Auburn.
“Them having that meeting kind of already showed what we already knew that they all care and they’re all taking it seriously and they all want to get the most out of our ability,” Greenan said. “It was a bit of a turning point.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.