A disappointing season by Ole Miss standards was somewhat predictable given the loss of its top two players.
That hasn’t dampened optimism for the Rebels’ coach as they prepare for an 18th-consecutive NCAA tournament.
Senior Kalle Norberg overcame a back injury and was poised to finish his college career in a big way, but a foot injury limited Norberg through the early portion of the schedule before he finally shut it down in late March. Norberg went 20-1 and was the SEC tournament MVP two years ago. He was redshirted in 2010 because of the injury.
Freshman Nick Schultz did not get a favorable eligibility ruling from the NCAA regarding his high school graduation date that was past the NCAA’s deadline. Ole Miss had documentation from Schultz’s high school admitting an error in his case, but Schultz was forced to sit out the season.
Chadwick says Norberg and Schultz are among the top players in the nation.
“Entering the season we felt we had the potential to perhaps have the best team we’ve ever had,” Ole Miss coach Billy Chadwick said.
Instead, the Rebels were forced to improvise and head into today’s NCAA regional at UCLA at 12-9. The Rebels take on UC-Irvine at 10 a.m. Binghamton and host UCLA round out the regional field.
Ole Miss, which had won nine straight SEC Western Division titles and five overall titles during that span, slipped to fourth place in the West this season.
“If you look at how the team played as a whole, they did an outstanding job,” Chadwick said. “It just puts into perspective how phenomenal it is that we’ve been able to sustain the high level that we’ve had. I can’t remember when we’ve had a star player, two, who lost the entire season. We’ve been fortunate.”
High hopes for 2012
Schultz will be on board for 2012, and Chadwick believes the Rebels have the potential to be a top 10 team next season.
Until then they face an Irvine (19-7) team that won the Big West Conference tournament and is playing in the NCAAs for the second straight year. Irvine is led by Big West Player of the Year Chris Kearney, who is ranked No. 42 in singles.
The Rebels’ top players this season have been senior Tucker Vorster and junior Marcel Thiemann, both of whom earned All-SEC honors.
Vorster went 12-6 this season playing mostly at No. 2 where he was 8-5. Thiemann was 10-9, all at No. 1 singles.
The Rebels went 1-1 in the SEC tournament, defeating Vanderbilt 4-0 before losing to No. 2 Tennessee 4-1.
“Considering we lost two such key players, two of the best in the nation, we feel fortunate as a team that we’re able to be in this position,” Chadwick said. “We’re playing our best tennis right now, and we’re looking forward to taking on these California teams.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal