OLE MISS

'New Start' For Rebel Netters

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The Ole Miss men's tennis team kicks off Southeastern Conference play, as they host No. 31 Auburn and No. 37 Alabama this weekend at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center. The Rebels enter the weekend with a 2-3 record, and they see the start of league play as the beginning of a new season.

"It's very exciting," said senior Johan Backstrom. "It's going to be like a new start for us. This feels like the beginning of the season. We feel like if we play up to our potential with the team that we have now, we can cause some damage in the SEC this year."

The Southeastern Conference race appears wide open, with six teams ranked in the top 25 but no teams ranked in the top 10 in this week's ITA National Team rankings. 

The defending champion and preseason favorite, Georgia, is 3-5 overall and ranked No. 35, with losses to No. 22 Florida and No. 16 Mississippi State at the ITA National Team Indoor. The highest ranked team, No. 11 Tennessee, is 10-3 overall, with a loss to No. 13 Texas A&M. Ole Miss was picked sixth in the coaches' preseason poll.

"The SEC is wide open," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "It's already been proven that any team can beat any other team in the SEC, so it's going to be a tough weekend because Alabama and Auburn both have quality programs."

"It's hard to predict, and there are going to be a lot of close matches," Backstrom added. "With Ricardo (Jorge) being eligible, we have a deep team. If we play to our potential, we should have a really good chance of winning championships this year."

Jorge, a freshman from Tavira, Portugal, made his debut last weekend in Waco, Texas, where the Rebels went 1-1 with a 4-0 win over SMU and a 4-0 loss to No. 7 Baylor. Jorge won at No. 5 singles to clinch the win against SMU and then paired with junior Nik Scholtz at No. 2 doubles for a win against Baylor.

"He has good returns," Chadwick said. "He's a good natural doubles player because he's good at the net. In singles, he relies on his forehand. He likes to dictate the play with it. He's very fast with his feet. He has a really good overall game. From a coaching standpoint, he is an easy young man to work with and listens well. He is an extremely hard worker. He's going to be a good one."

A year ago, Ole Miss defeated Auburn and Alabama in the regular season, both by a score of 4-3, but in the SEC Tournament, 12-seed Alabama upset 5-seed Ole Miss, 4-3.

"We need to get off to a good start, and these are two teams that we match up well with, and we're playing at home, so we need to take advantage of that," Chadwick said. "They're very similar to last year's teams. It's a lot of the same faces. When you look at the results this fall, both of them have improved since last year."

Ole Miss begins play this weekend against Auburn Friday at 2 p.m., and then concludes against Alabama Sunday at 1 p.m.

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