STARKVILLE, Miss. – Weeks of practice and preparation are concluding, as the 18th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-10, 7-5 SEC) begin their 2014 NCAA Championship quest on Friday, May 9, facing No. 61 Louisiana-Lafayette (20-4) in first round action in Austin, Texas.
The match between the Bulldogs and the Ragin’ Cajuns, set for 10 a.m. CT, is the first of two matches on the day. The host, No. 9 Texas, will battle Marist following MSU and ULL, with that match slated to start not before 1 p.m. The winners of the two Friday matches at UT’s Penick-Allison Tennis Center are slated to meet in the second round Saturday at 1 p.m. CT, for the right to advance to the round of 16 in Athens, Ga., on May 16.
State is making its fourth-straight NCAA Championship appearance and its 23rd in program history. The Bulldogs will be looking to make their way back to the round of 16 for the second-straight season. MSU defeated Austin Peay and Harvard last season at home to punch their first ticket to the NCAA Team Championship finals since 2001.
The Maroon and White will be led Friday by the 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year, Florian Lakat, and senior Malte Stropp. Lakat, who was also named All-SEC Second Team and to the All-SEC Freshman Team last week, enters the weekend with 21 wins on the year, 15 of those coming in dual match play. Stropp has been a mainstay at the top of the Bulldog order, playing mainly at the No. 2 position of the MSU order. Stropp’s 14 wins for the 2013-14 campaign have propelled him into the top 10 of several categories in the MSU record book.
In the middle for MSU is sophomore Jordan Angus and senior Zach White. Angus leads all Bulldogs for the year in several categories, including overall wins (24), dual match wins (19), SEC singles wins (8) and individual doubles wins (22). The lone Bulldog sophomore also holds a nine-match winning streak, a team-best for the year. At the No. 4 spot, White is MSU’s other senior, earning 13 wins in his final season in the Maroon and White.
Anchoring the Bulldog order has been a trio of Bulldogs, two of those being freshmen. Rookie Rishab Agarwal has been crucial for State this season, earning 14 wins this spring, with 11 coming at the No. 5 position. Junior Tassilo Schmid has spent a majority of the season at the No. 6 spot, racking up 12 wins on the season. Rounding out the lineup is freshman Robin Haden, who has seen some action at the bottom of the Maroon and White order. Haden has amassed six victories for 2013-14, with four of those coming in dual match action.
In doubles, the Bulldogs are led by the 17th-ranked duo of Angus and Stropp, who recently earned their second-straight NCAA Doubles Championship bid. MSU’s top duo led all State tandems with 18 overall wins, 12 during the spring. Rounding out the doubles order will be the teams of Lakat and Schmid (nine dual match wins) and Agarwal and White (11 dual match wins).
Louisiana-Lafayette, the three seed in the region, finished as the Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions, clinching their first trip to the NCAA Championship since 2006. The Ragin’ Cajuns are coached by former MSU All-American Mark Jeffrey (1988-91), who played with State head coach Per Nilsson on the 1991 MSU NCAA squad.
Leading the Ragin’ Cajuns into the weekend will be Hunter Johnson and Damian Farinola, who both lead their squad with 16 wins on the year. Johnson has been impressive in the spring, going 15-0 in dual match play, while Farinola has 13 wins this spring. In doubles, the duo of Farinola and Edgar Lopez top ULL in overall wins (15) and dual match wins (14).
The last time these two squads met was in 2008, when the Bulldogs captured a 6-1 win at home. Overall, the Maroon and White are 18-10 against ULL, going 16-2 in Starkville, 1-5 on the road and 1-3 in matches at neutral sites.
2014 NCAA Men's Tennis Championship First and Second Rounds
May 9-10, 2014 – Penick-Allison Tennis Center – Austin, Texas
5/9/14 - First Round
Match 1 (10 a.m. CT) – No. 18 Mississippi State vs. No. 61 Louisiana-Lafayette
Match 2 (not before 1 p.m. CT) – No. 9 Texas vs. Marist
5/10/14 - Second Round
Match 3 (1 p.m.) - Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner
Schedule subject to change