OXFORD, Miss. - With its third-straight victory over the Rebels, Mississippi State's ninth-ranked men's tennis squad (18-5, 9-2 SEC) downed No. 14 rival Ole Miss (11-7, 7-4 SEC) 4-3 Saturday to earn back-to-back Southeastern Conference Western Division championships, also claiming the division title in 2011.
"Extremely proud of the guys for stepping up on an occasion like this," head coach Per Nilsson said. "Playing Ole Miss in Oxford is always a hostile environment and our boys really stepped up their game. We wanted to win the outright West and the fan support that travel to the match was absolutely incredible and we cannot thank them enough for what they did today."
With the win Saturday, the Bulldogs also secured the No. 3 seed in the 2012 SEC Men's Tennis Championship which MSU will host beginning this Thursday, April 19, at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre. MSU's first match will be at 11 a.m. CT Friday in the quarterfinals (Bulldogs receive a first-round bye as a top 4 seed). State's opponent will be the winner between sixth-seeded Tennessee and 11th-seeded Alabama, who sqaure off at 11 a.m. Thursday in the frst round.
MSU's 9-2 regular-season finish in SEC play is its best since finishing in the same fashion during the 1998 season when the Bulldogs ended the season with a trip to the NCAA semifinals.
Saturday's match was another classic MSU-UM matchup, with many twists and turns throughout, but in the end, the Bulldogs grabbed the early lead and held on tightly for the win.
In doubles play, it looks as if Ole Miss was going to run away with things early on. UM's 35th-ranked duo of Nik Scholtz and Jonas Lutjen were the first to finish on court 1 as they ousted No. 39 Louis Cant and Malte Stropp of MSU by a surprise 8-0 score.
The Bulldogs, however, would answer on court 2 as the 53rd-ranked duo of George Coupland and Artem Ilyushin were able to go up a double break and serve out the match for an 8-4 upset of Ole Miss' 16th-ranked Marcel and Chris Thiemann.
Court 3 would then be the decider, where the Bulldog tandem of Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson were in a battle with the Rebel pair of William Kallberg and Johan Backstrom. While the Rebels were in control on court 1, UM also took an early 4-1 lead on No. 3. But White and Wilkinson were able to reel off six-straight games over their Rebel foes to gain a 7-4 advantage After losing two in a row, the Bulldogs were able to break UM and take the match 8-6 and the big doubles point for MSU.
In singles play, the two in-state foes would battle just as closely for the match, with both sides taking three first sets.
After quite a bit of play progressed, the Rebels posted the first point of singles on court 2 as Ole Miss' 27th-ranked Marcel Thiemann took a 6-0, 6-3 decision from State's James Chaudry.
However, the Bulldogs would respond in a storm as they finished off the three matches they had one-set leads in - at the No. 1, 4 and 5 positions - in convincing fashion to clinch the team victory.
On court 5 for MSU was the 60th-ranked Coupland who would regain the Bulldog lead with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Rebel Chris Thiemann. Quickly following was another Bulldog senior in 40th-ranked Cant on court 4. Taking a tight first set 6-4, Cant would ride his momentum to earn a 6-4, 6-2 victory over 72nd-ranked Kallberg and give MSU the 3-1 lead.
The match clincher came from the top spot where 12th-ranked Bulldog senior Artem Ilyushin was battling No. 14 Nik Scholtz of Ole Miss. In a tough first set, Ilyushin was able to fight back from down a break to win 6-4. In the second, Ilyushin rolled past his Rebel foe for a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
State's senior class was a big part of MSU's success in the league this season. Cant and Ilyushin both finished SEC play at 9-2 in singles, while Coupland went 8-3.
With the match-clincher coming from Ilyushin at the top spot, two matches were still on court at the No. 3 and 6 positions.
In a tight match on 3, Ole Miss' 39th-ranked Lutjen ultimately downed No. 68 Stropp 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to earn the Rebels their second point of the day.
On court 6 for MSU was White where he battled UM's Backstrom. Falling 6-4 in the first, White would battle to take the second 6-2 and send the match to a super-tiebreaker. Down 8-3 in the tiebreaker, White ralled to 8-8 but his efforts would fall short as Backstrom took the contest 6-4, 2-6, 1-0(9).
State completed a season sweep of the Rebels, also claiming a 4-2 win in the River Hills Cup in Jackson in February.
No. 9 Mississippi State 4, No. 14 Ole Miss 3
4/14/12 - Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center - Oxford, Miss.
1) #35 Jonas Lutjen/Nik Scholtz (UM) def. #39 Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSU) 8-0
2) #53 George Coupland/Artem Ilyushin (MSU) def. #16 Marcel Thiemann/Chris Thiemann (UM) 8-4
3) Zach White/Ethan Wilkinson (MSU) def. Johan Backstrom/William Kallberg (UM) 8-6
1) #12 Ilyushin (MSU) def. #14 Scholtz (UM) 6-4, 6-1
2) #27 M. Thiemann (UM) def. James Chaudry (MSU) 6-0, 6-3
3) #49 Lutjen (UM) def. #68 Stropp (MSU) 6-4, 2-6, 6-3
4) #40 Cant (MSU) def. #72 Kallberg (UM) 6-4, 6-2
5) #60 Coupland (MSU) def. C. Thiemann (UM) 6-3, 6-2
6) Backstrom (UM) def. White (MSU) 6-4, 2-6, 1-0(9)
Order of finish... Doubles (1,2,3)... Singles (2,5,4,1,3,6)