With a pair of wins in the SEC Tournament this past week, junior Nik Scholtz rose nine spots to No. 9 in the nation, the highest-ranked player in the Southeastern Conference. His ranking also puts him in position to earn a top-16 seed in the NCAA Singles Championship and become the school’s fifth three-time All-American.
“I was pretty excited to see that,” Scholtz said. “I feel like I am where I should be. I honestly feel like I’m a top-10 player. I have been working hard for it. I have had a good season. I have had good people around me supporting me with our fans, the coaching staff and my teammates. They have all been there for me.”
“We feel like he’s one of the premiere players in the country, and his ranking reflects that,” head coach Billy Chadwick said. “You have to be used to having your name up there. You have to be used to being one of the top players at whatever level that you’re playing on, and he handles it well. He’s a great team member, and he’s very unselfish.”
As a sophomore, Scholtz ended the year ranked No. 17 in the nation in singles and No. 4 in doubles, one of only six players in the nation to finish ranked top 20 in singles and top 10 in doubles. Seeded 9-16 in NCAA singles, Scholtz was upset in the first round of the NCAA Singles Championship, a setback he learned from as he entered his junior campaign.
“I was disappointed with my mentality,” Scholtz said. “I didn’t have the fight that I normally had. I don’t know if I was tired from the whole season or what it was. You learn from that and you have to make sure when you’re in that position again to give it all you have. If you don’t, you will regret it.”
Scholtz has led Ole Miss with a 15-1 record at No. 1 singles, the best record of any player in the SEC who played all his matches at No. 1 singles. He posted a 6-1 record in the SEC regular season and a 2-0 record in the SEC Tournament, highlighted by two wins over Kentucky’s Tom Jomby, ranked No. 11 in the nation, and a win over Texas A&M’s Harrison Adams, ranked No. 19 in the nation.
“You have to be ready to play every time you walk out on the court,” Chadwick said. “That’s the difference from last year to this year. Every single time that’s he’s walked on the court, he’s been ready to play. That’s the reason why he finished 8-1 [in SEC matches] at No. 1 singles.”
Scholtz has won seven in a row and 17 of his last 18 matches dating back to mid-January. He also helped the Rebels to back-to-back wins over No. 10 Texas A&M, in the SEC regular season finale, and No. 18 Tennessee, in the first round of the SEC Tournament, to help them move up 15 spots to No. 38 in the nation and likely get them off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“Things always start at the top, and it trickles down,” Scholtz said. “I know if I go out and can take care of business, it takes a lot of pressure off my teammates and helps them play better. It gives you momentum that you can keep going throughout the lineup and let the other guys build off it.
“The guys believe more in themselves. We have to be consistent. That’s the main thing at this level. Having one, two or three guys playing well is not enough. You need the whole team to be playing well. We have really come together more as a unit and guys believe more in themselves.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller.
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