Men's Tennis 2018 Season in Review
June 13, 2018
OXFORD, Miss. – Resilient – A person able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations. This aptly describes the Ole Miss men’s tennis team in 2018.
When adversity hit the Rebels during the season, they hit back. The Rebels earned their 25th consecutive NCAA appearance and knocked off Duke and No. 4 Stanford to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the 17th time in program history. The strong finish culminated with a final national ranking of No. 24.
“We went through a lot this year, but the guys responded the right way,” head coach Toby Hansson said. “Hopefully they learned something from this year, that you never give up, you always keep trying and do the best to your ability. The guys deserve a lot of credit for hanging in there and finishing the way they did.”
The Rebels began the season knocking off 2017 NCAA Champion, Virginia, and then-No. 9 Baylor, and went into SEC play at 8-2. After starting 1-1 in conference play, adversity struck the Rebels in the form of injuries to multiple players, including senior All-American Gustav Hansson.
With Hansson sidelined for two months, and other players missing action along the way, the season hit a critical point heading into the stretch run. Instead of caving, the Rebels hit it head on.
The loss of Hansson for two months and junior Fabian Fallert for three weeks, pushed sophomore Tim Sandkaulen to the No. 1 singles spot, while freshmen Finn Reynolds and Cotter Wilson gained plenty of valuable experience in the rugged SEC.
The Rebels earned big home win against fellow Sweet Sixteen qualifier Alabama, a huge road win at Auburn and a much-needed win against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, to secure their 25th straight NCAA bid.
For the third year in a row, the Rebels were sent to California for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, this time to Palo Alto. With a full roster and Hansson back at the top spot, the Rebels took down Duke 4-3 in the first round and then upset No. 4 seed Stanford 4-3 to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012. Hamilton clinched the win against Duke and Reynolds saved multiple match points to clinch against Stanford.
“These guys have a lot of pride for the school and the tradition we have here at Ole Miss within the tennis program,” Hansson said. They believed that they could pull it off in the end. Having Gus back in the lineup gave us a boost, but we also saw many positives from all the guys on the team who started to play their best tennis at the end of the season. It was an amazing feat to beat two very strong teams in Duke and especially Stanford. The weekend as a whole is something we will remember for a very long time.”
While the season concluded in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to No. 13 Florida, the Rebels showed everyone that tough times don’t last, tough people do.
“I am really proud of the guys, especially for the seniors to be able to go out that way,” Hansson said. I know how hard they worked and how much love they have for this university and this program. It was very emotional after the last match. We were obviously disappointed that we didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, because as competitors we know that we could have had that one too. We were right there, up a break in the third set in the last match. But overall looking back, we are very happy with the way we competed the entire season.”
The Rebels achieved plenty of success off the court as well. Babic was a finalist for the SEC’s Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year Postgraduate Scholarship and helped the Rebels claim the Chancellor’s Cup for the 11th time in program history with the highest team GPA among all male sports at Ole Miss. Hamilton was named Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year at Ole Miss. Babic and Hansson capped their careers, graduating from Ole Miss.
“A lot of credit to the guys for how they were able to balance everything and still perform so well in the classroom,” Hansson said. “They stayed the course and finished with some strong academic performances individually and also as a team. I am very proud that they continued our tradition of excellence in academics.”
“We have several guys coming back that rose to the occasion down the stretch,” Hansson said. “Filip played outstanding the last month of the season. Fabi stepped up and played some really solid doubles and competed well in singles. Tim has reached that next level and showed that he can compete with the best in the country. He’s worked really hard and it’s starting to pay off. Finn stepped up in a big way. I knew he could do it, because he’s a very tough, competitive kid who is always looking to put in extra work. He loves those moments and he’s really coming along. Cotter saw a lot of action and with continued hard work will keep improving. With the team we have coming back and the players that will be joining us, we’re expecting to take it a step further next year.”
For more information on Ole Miss Men's Tennis, follow the Rebels on Twitter @OleMissMTennis, on Facebook at OleMissMTennis and on Instagram at OleMissMTennis, follow Coach Hansson on Twitter at @TennisToby.
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