OXFORD – The Ole Miss men’s tennis team is ranked third in the country and stands on the cusp of an unbeaten season in what many consider the country’s top tennis conference.
But if the Rebels close the deal Saturday at noon with an SEC win at rival Mississippi State – a team it’s beaten 22 straight times – it will have more to do with coach Billy Chadwick’s work in science rather than tennis.
“It’s about chemistry,” says senior Bram ten Berg, who is 14-6 in singles play, with a 5-1 record at No. 3. “There are so many very talented teams in the SEC – and the rankings reflect this – that it comes down to things other than pure talent.”
The Rebels (20-2, 11-0 SEC) have gotten major contributions from four different freshmen, all of whom have been named freshman of the week in the SEC at least once.
Berg says the upperclassmen work with the young guys, and that has helped them acclimate quickly to college level play.
“When you’re recruiting you try to identify intangibles. We’re always looking for one, good students, then kids that are coachable and can be good representatives of the university,” Chadwick said. “If you get those ingredients you have the makings of a team that can be cohesive and have the same goals.”
One of the top newcomers has been freshman Devin Britton of Jackson. He’s 12-8 playing at or near the top of the lineup, going 8-4 at No. 2 and 3-3 at No. 1.
Junior Kalle Norberg has been the team’s most consistent, going 16-1 with 12 wins at No. 3 and four at No. 2.
The Rebels were ranked as high as No. 2 before slipping in this week’s release.
Led by Ole Miss, there are five SEC teams ranked in the top 12. Georgia is fourth, Tennessee sixth, Florida 10th and Kentucky 12th.
The Rebels set the tone for their season with a Friday-Sunday sweep of Georgia and Tennessee in Oxford.
It was a weekend Chadwick had eyed for a long time. Ole Miss had not beaten traditional power Georgia since 2005 and had gone on the road to face the Bulldogs the last two years because of a scheduling change in the SEC.
“We’d felt disadvantaged the last two years,” Chadwick said. “We knew playing the two best teams in the conference at home that we had to take advantage of that. It really gave our young guys a lot of confidence.”
Now Ole Miss is one win from SEC perfection.
The Rebels haven’t shown a habit of looking past teams to date, and Chadwick doesn’t believe they will in Starkville.
The Bulldogs are 6-13 overall, 2-8 in the SEC but are healthier than they have been. A quality upset against Ole Miss could put them in the NCAA discussion.
“Focus has not been a problem for our team,” Chadwick said. “If we’re beaten by Mississippi State it will be because we were outplayed, and that could happen. They’re very talented.”
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal