OXFORD, Miss. – Last month, Nik Scholtz became the first Ole Miss men’s tennis player to be named SEC Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year during his career, and he hopes this time next week to add to that list of accomplishments with an NCAA title.
The NCAA Singles Championship gets underway Wednesday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Georgia, site of the 2012 NCAA Championships, where Scholtz reached the Elite Eight as a freshman. Scholtz will face VCU senior Alexis Heugas in the first round at 1 p.m. CT. This will be the first ever meeting between the two.
“I am really looking forward to the NCAAs, especially because it’s in Athens,” said Scholtz, who is seeded 9-16 for the third straight year. “I honestly believe I can go far if I play well. If someone beats me this year, it’s either because I had a really bad day or they played really well. I am pretty confident right now. I just need to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
This will be the final time for head coach Billy Chadwick to coach Scholtz, as he is retiring at the end of the season. It would be a great going away present if Scholtz could make a run at the title.
“Nik is at the top of his game, he’s worked really hard since the team season ended,” Chadwick said. “We are looking forward to a good tournament.”
Scholtz led the Rebels to their 21st consecutive NCAA appearance where the team advanced to the second round before falling to Notre Dame in a very close 4-2 match. Since then, he has been preparing for the individual tournament with the help of some of his teammates.
“We were obviously disappointed that the season ended in South Bend,” Scholtz said. “Some of the guys and members of our support staff are done forever, Johan (Backstrom – senior) and Ben (Angle – athletic trainer). Those guys will be missed.
“I’ve had a lot of guys helping me prepare for this week. William (Kallberg), Slick (Stefan Lindmark) and Jonas (Lutjen) were still in Oxford. Also, Johan has been helping me some and obviously Toby (Hansson – associate head coach). I’ve had really good preparation. The weather has been good. I am ready to go.”
As a sophomore in 2013, 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. He has only lost one match since mid-January, including a 15-1 mark at No. 1 singles. He finished 8-1 in the SEC on his way to becoming the fourth Rebel to earn SEC Player of the Year honors.
“Nik learned a lot from both previous NCAA experiences,” Chadwick said. “When he made the quarterfinals, he won several close matches and really fought hard. When he lost first round up at Illinois he didn’t compete as hard as he needed to win that match. Looking back on it and seeing what he has been able to do this spring, that’s a big area of improvement that he has shown. Every single match that he’s played, he’s given his best effort.”
“I’ve been able to weather the storm and hang in there and keep fighting,” said Scholtz on the difference this season. “If you just hang in there and then you get that one little break you win. That’s something I’ve learned to do this season, keep fighting. It’s the guy who can hang in there and weather the storm a little longer when things aren’t going well, until you get that break.”
Joining Scholtz in Athens is someone quite familiar with winning an NCAA Championship. Devin Britton, who has served as the Rebels’ student assistant this year while back in school finishing his degree, became the youngest NCAA Champion ever in 2009 as a freshman.
“It’s great to have him with us, because I have someone to room with and talk to besides coach, and also someone to practice with,” Scholtz said. “He’s been there before and he’s been around here the last couple of years. He knows me.”
For updates throughout the NCAA Singles Championship, follow @NCAATennis2014 and @OleMissMTennis on Twitter. There will also be live scoring and video for all matches.
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