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Rebel Preview: Michigan Invitational

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7626623.jpegThree things from Ole Miss women's tennis head coach Mark Beyers, previewing the 2014 season and the Rebels' first tournament, the Michigan Invitational, which starts Saturday:

1. Rebels Return Top Five Players

Last season, the Ole Miss women's tennis team ended with a 16-14 record and a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to No. 15-ranked Duke. This season, the Rebels return their top five players, led by the team's lone senior, Caroline Rohde-Moe. 

"A lot of these kids gained a lot of experience and we got better," Beyers said. "Last year, we were a little too inconsistent to really reach all of our goals, but hopefully from the experience they gained from last year, they will be able to apply that this year. We have basically the entire starting lineup from last year coming back and then you add Zalina (Khairudinova) to the mix, so hopefully that will be a recipe for success.

2. Balance Throughout The Lineup

The Rebels begin the spring season ranked No. 35 in the nation, which is ninth among Southeastern Conference teams. Three players -- Mai El Kamash (No. 57), Rohde-Moe (No. 87) and Julia Jones (No. 90) -- are ranked in the top 100 in singles, and Rohde-Moe combines with Marija Milutinovic for the nation's No. 19 doubles team.

"We had different players at difference times play well in the fall," Beyers said. "Julia Jones ended up winning the Little Rock Invitation, which was a great win for her. Marija Milutinovic had a tough year with some injuries, and she really turned things around this fall. Mai El Kamash had some great individual wins, and she's currently our highest-ranked player. Different people stepped up at different times. It shows that we have a lot of depth and experience, and that creates a lot of excitement for us as coaches to see how that is going to work out."

3. Getting Started, Prepping For ITA Kickoff Weekend

Ole Miss kicks off the spring season this weekend at the Michigan Invitational (Jan. 18-20), where it will play singles and doubles matches against players from No. 11 Michigan, No. 20 Georgia Tech and No. 59 South Florida. Each team will play three doubles and three singles rounds, with points allocated to each winning player or team according to the flight position.

"It's getting back into playing team matches," Beyers said. "In the fall, it's all individual stuff, and even though it's a format where it doesn't count from a team national ranking standpoint, it's still a team format, and so to get used to having everyone playing at the same time. It's also getting ready for Jackson State and then the ITA Kickoff Weekend."

After their first home match of the season, Jan. 22 against Jackson State, the Rebels will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the ITA Kickoff Weekend (Jan. 25-26). 

Ole Miss opens the ITA Kickoff Weekend against No. 34 Oklahoma and will then play either No. 12 Alabama or No. 40 William & Mary. The winner advances to the ITA National Team Indoor (Feb. 7-10) in Charlottesville, Va.

"The good thing is, you have four good teams there, four teams that finished in the RPI Top 50, so you're guaranteed two good matches," Beyers said. "We want to go 2-0 and quality for the National Indoors in Virginia, but regardless, we're going to get two good matches. Even if you go 1-1, it's going to help from a national ranking standpoint and help you later down the road when it comes to NCAA Tournament time."


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