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Rebel Preview: MLK Invitational

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Three things from Ole Miss men's tennis head coach Billy Chadwick, previewing the 2014 season and the Rebels' first tournament, the MLK Invitational at Georgia Tech, which starts Saturday:

1. 'He Can Be The Best Player In The Country'

As Chadwick enters his last season as head coach before retiring after the season, he told the team he wants to make this their best spring, and it all starts with two-time All-American Nik Scholtz, who is ranked No. 15 in the nation.

"Nik Scholtz, if he gets to playing like he can play, he can be the best player in the country," Chadwick said. "He can win the NCAA's. He's one of those who are up there. He will be playing at the top spot for us."

The junior from Caledon, South Africa, ended the 2013 season ranked No. 17 in the nation in singles and No. 4 doubles. He posted a 20-9 overall record, 12-6 at No. 1 singles, and teamed with now-graduated Jonas Lutjen for a 20-7 overall record in doubles, despite battling an elbow late in the season.

"He has to be healthy," Chadwick said of Scholtz. "There are different things that we have been working on that are necessary for him, if he's going to make the transition from college to pro, and he has a good pro future ahead of him. If we get those things starting to fall into place, which they will, watch out for him. He's one the nation's best.

2. The Supporting Cast

Coming off a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, Ole Miss enters the 2014 season ranked No. 11 in the nation, which is fourth among Southeastern Conference teams. The Rebels return four of their top six players, led by Scholtz, and then there's the supporting cast.

"When I look at the heart of the lineup, it's three Swedes," Chadwick said. "It's William Kallberg, Johan Backstrom and Stefan Lindmark. Of that group, Backstrom is a senior, and he's looking to make his senior year his best year yet. We feel like that the heart of our lineup, we're looking good, and we have Vinod (Gowda) to throw in the mix also. And then to anchor things, we have Zach Wilder."

Kallberg and Lindmark are ranked No. 104 and No. 108, respectively, and combine for the nation's No. 51 doubles team. Of the three Swedes, Chadwick looks for Kallberg into the No. 2 singles spot vacated by Lutjen

"William Kallberg had an outstanding fall," Chadwick said. "If you look at his record last year, he played No. 3 and No. 4 singles, and he was the most competitive of any position we had. He played really well last year and stepped up. The match that I remember the most with him is when he clinched the match for us against Georgia. He has a real weapon with his left hand, especially with his forehand. We not only look for him to play No. 2 singles, but to play No. 2 singles and win.

3. Looking Ahead To The ITA Kickoff Weekend

The last season of the Billy Chadwick era begins this weekend at the Georgia Tech Invitational (Jan. 18-20), where Ole Miss will play singles and doubles matches against players from No. 3 Georgia, No. 21 Memphis and Georgia Tech. 

It's a tune-up for the ITA Kickoff Weekend Jan. 25-26, where Ole Miss will begin play against No. 26 Michigan, followed by a match against either No. 22 Illinois or No. 23 Clemson. The Rebels' first match is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. at the Gillom Sports Center hours before the Ole Miss men's basketball teams hosts intrastate rival Mississippi State on campus.

"Se scheduled it to where we are going to play in the morning because basketball plays at 3 o'clock in the afternoon against Mississippi State, so we hope to make it a sports weekend for the Ole Miss fans," Chadwick said. 

"It's outstanding competition in the regional that we're hosting. You have four big names in there and all of them are really good tennis programs with great history. From the first hit, it's going to be competitive. It's really going to show where we are."

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