OLE MISS

A Closer Look: ITA Kick-Off

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Three things from Ole Miss men's tennis head coach Billy Chadwick, previewing the ITA Kick-Off this weekend at the Gillom Sports Center Saturday and Sunday:

1. Four Top 26 Teams
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The No. 10 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis opened the 2014 season at the MLK Invitational this past weekend on the campus of Georgia Tech with singles and doubles matches against Georgia Tech, No. 3 Georgia and No. 21 Memphis. Among the highlights included a pair of singles wins each for junior Nik Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in the nation, and sophomore Stefan Lindmark.

"Our objective was to prepare for this weekend coming up," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "The format of the tournament that we went to guaranteed three singles and three doubles matches. It was against great competition, so we feel like we accomplished what we wanted to. We're better prepared for this weekend."

Ole Miss now turns its attention to the ITA Kick-Off this weekend, where it hosts No. 22 Illinois, No. 25 Clemson and No. 26 Michigan at the Gillom Sports Center. The winner of the two-day regional advances to the National Team Indoor Feb. 14-17 in Houston, Texas.

"You're looking at four teams in this regional that are very equal, all very strong from top to bottom, our team included," Chadwick said. "There is no one that wouldn't say this is the strongest regional in the country. We have to take advantage of playing here at home and we need to make that the difference in putting us over the hump. If we get a good crowd out there, it can be the difference in us advancing to the Final 16."

"It's a huge opportunity and it's a very important weekend for our team," senior Johan Backstrom said. "All three teams coming here are really good teams. If we get through these two matches, it's a key for the rest of the season. Going to the National Indoor, where you are guaranteed three matches against the top teams in the country, can be a huge importance the rest of the season as far as rankings."

2. Michigan Rematch

The Rebels will face No. 26 Michigan Saturday at 10 a.m. in the first round, with No. 22 Illinois against No. 23 Clemson in the other first-round match. The winners will meet Sunday.

The match with Michigan marks a rematch from the 2012 NCAA second round. Ole Miss defeated Michigan 4-2 to advance to the Sweet 16, the program's 16th Sweet 16 appearance. Backstrom clinched the match with a 6-3 win in the third set at No. 5 singles.

"We saw them two years ago when the NCAA sent them down here when we were hosting the regionals," Chadwick said of Michigan. "We had a tough, tough battle with them. They're always well prepared. The coach for them, Bruce Berque, used to be the assistant at Florida for years, so we're familiar with him and the job that he did there. And he has made Michigan a top-25 program, year in and year out."

"Hopefully we can play as well as we did in that match and get through them to face either Illinois or Clemson," Backstrom added.

3. New Doubles Pairing

The doubles point was a key to success for Ole Miss last season, with the Rebels posting a 13-2 record when winning the doubles point, compared to 3-7 when losing the doubles point. Lindmark and junior William Kallberg, ranked No. 51 in the nation, solidified themselves as a team winning the ITA Southern Regional in the fall and participating in the ITA National Indoor.

Last season, Scholtz teamed with Jonas Lutjen and ended the season ranked No. 4 in the nation and posted a 20-7 overall record, including 15-3 at No. 1 doubles. With Lutjen graduated, Scholtz now teams with Backstrom, and they posted a 6-4 win at No. 1 doubles against the nation's No. 12 team from Georgia this past weekend.

"I was very impressed with Johan's doubles last year, so he was the logical one to step in and play with Nik," Chadwick said. "Johan has really good returns and he has a really big serve. Those two things are essential when you're playing against the top doubles teams in the country. We have the makings of a good team with Johan and Nik."

"It's always fun playing with such a great player," Backstrom said. "We got better and better each match, and hopefully we can keep on getting to know each other as doubles partners, improve throughout the season and hopefully do some great things."


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