Early SEC exit motivates Bulldog netters

After making an unexpectedly early exit from the SEC Tournament, the Mississippi State men’s tennis team has had time to simmer over the result. It’s also had time to get better.
The sting of that setback – to Florida in the quarterfinals – still fresh on their minds, the Bulldogs (13-8) enter the NCAA Championship in Atlanta today with a mission of building on what was established this season. They won the program’s first Western Division title and are in the NCAAs for the first time since 2005.
“We thought we could win the whole tournament, and then losing in the quarterfinals was pretty bad for us,” freshman Malte Stroppe said. “We’ll try to do better this time in the NCAA tournament, and we’ll see if it works. We’re really motivated and really want to win more than just one match.”
MSU will take on Florida State at 9 a.m.
Practices the past three weeks have gone well, according to both Stroppe and coach Per Nilsson. Stroppe said, “Everyone is playing their best tennis right now,” and Nilsson said the focus has been on areas of improvement.
Florida State will be no cupcake. The Seminoles enter the match with a modest 9-14 record, but four of their losses have come by a 4-3 count to teams currently ranked in the top 30: No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Duke, No. 14 Texas and No. 27 Miami.
“They have the experience. They’ve been in the tournament for a long time, so it’s nothing new to them. It’s a scary match,” Nilsson said.
If the Bulldogs can get past FSU, they’ll face the winner of host Georgia Tech and Middle Tennessee State in the round of 16 on Saturday. For a program on the rise, a deep run is what Nilsson wants to become the normal expectation.
The fourth-year coach, who played for MSU from 1991-94, has plenty of young talent like Stroppe to build on for the future. He likes the direction the team is going.
“We feel like we can still do some good things, and next year it should be even better,” Nilsson said. “The young guys that we have are going to be here for a while, so it’s exciting that it’s not, oh, we’re good this year, then the next year is a rebuilding year.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@journalinc.com.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal