Spend time at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center any given day in the spring, and you’ll not only find current members of the Ole Miss men’s tennis team practicing or getting ready for a big match, but you’ll see former players hanging around. Ole Miss tennis is much more than a team, it’s a family. That is something senior Johan Backstrom noticed immediately upon arriving at Ole Miss as a freshman three and a half years ago.
“Right away I felt like a part of the team and the guys were all great,” Backstrom said. “We had some great leaders like Kalle Norberg, Tucker Vorster and Jonas Lutjen, guys that I could look up to. There’s a saying that you may graduate from the University of Mississippi, but you never leave Ole Miss. That’s true about our team. When guys come back to visit, they are treated like they are still part of the team. We have a small team, so having all these guys around makes it more fun.”
Backstrom has had a lot of fun during his career and has been involved in some big moments for the Rebels. He has been instrumental in the Rebels’ claiming an SEC West Championship and three NCAA appearances, including the Sweet Sixteen. The Uppsala, Sweden native will be remembered for clinching the NCAA Regional final against Michigan in 2012 to send the Rebels to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the 16th time.
“I have a lot of great memories, but the one that sticks out in my mind, is clinching against Michigan for us to go to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen,” Backstrom said. “That was quite an experience. Beating Georgia here [last year] was another great memory and clinching against Tennessee.”
Last year, Backstrom helped lead the Rebels to their 10th SEC Western Division title and a final ranking of No. 10 in the nation.
Off the court, Backstrom is a leader in the classroom. The managerial finance and accounting major holds an impressive 3.90 grade point average. He has been inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society and is a two-time National ITA Scholar-Athlete, a two-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and a member of the Chancellor’s Honor Roll every semester. He helped the Rebels earn the Chancellor’s Cup three of his years, as the Ole Miss men’s team with the highest cumulative GPA, and has been instrumental in the Rebels earning the prestigious ITA All-Academic Team Award every year of his career.
Four years ago, Backstrom was deciding between two schools, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Today, he plays his last SEC home match for the Rebels against the Aggies in front of a fan base he has come to love like his own family.
“Playing in front of the fans here is nothing like I have ever experienced before. It’s so much fun to play for Rebel Nation and the Rebel family. It’s hard to beat. We always get a fantastic crowd to support us, and we are really appreciative of that.”
As a double major, Backstrom will return next year to finish up his degree, practice with the guys and cheer on his teammates from the stands, just like so many of his former teammates have done through the years.
“It’s been quite a journey and there are a lot of things I am going to miss about being a part of this team,” Backstrom said. “The team spirit and traveling with the guys, team dinners at coach’s house. Being able to fight for your team and play for a team is something that I’ll never get to do again. It’s been an incredible experience and I am happy with the decision I made.”
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