STARKVILLE, Miss. — The No. 54 Razorback men’s tennis team is in Starkville, Miss. this week for the SEC Men’s Tennis Tournament. The tournament starts on Thursday and has the Hogs as the No. 12 seed facing the No. 5 seed Ole Miss in the first round. Thursday’s match between the Razorbacks and Rebels is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Arkansas is coming off a 14-12 regular season, which saw wins against five ranked opponents. The team was even ranked as high as No. 34 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, its highest ranking since the 2008 season. Even after a 1-10 conference season, head coach Robert Cox believes his team still has what it takes to score a win or two at the tournament and possibly keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
“This is our postseason play,” Cox said. “If we can click on all six courts in singles, we can do it. It would mean a lot to us to make the NCAA Tournament after several years of being absent. We’re going down there with one focus and purpose. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for us to upset Ole Miss. We played them close early in the year at Ole Miss. Now we get them on a neutral site and we’re looking forward to that.”
This year’s Razorbacks were stellar in non-conference play, going 13-2 with big wins over No. 72 DePaul, No. 45 Santa Clara, No. 69 Wichita State and No. 66 Southern Miss. Those wins along with the victory over No. 48 Vanderbilt, are what kept Arkansas in the Top-50 for the majority of the season. Much of the success can be attributed to the play of Arkansas’ three seniors, Nikolas Zogaj, Matt Walters and Taj Harrison. All three players combined for 33 percent of the Razorbacks’ singles wins. Zogaj and Walters continue to hold the top spots on the team with 16 and 15 wins respectively.
“I couldn’t be more proud of those three guys in how they’ve represented the University of Arkansas,” Cox said. “They’ve been successful on the court, but also off the courts as exceptional student-athletes. It’s a privilege to have them on the team and to have coached them. With Nikolas (Zogaj) and Matt (Walters) serving as team captains, they really did a good job of picking the guys up and leading them. I’m pleased with how they’ve played and acted all year long.”
In doubles the story all year long has been at the top position with Walters and junior Hall Fess. The duo has gone 20-8 overall this season and has claimed an ITA doubles ranking of No. 49. Twelve of their wins have come in dual play and all three of their conference wins were against ranked opponents. Their biggest win actually came on the courts in Starkville, Miss. as they took down the 32nd-ranked team of Malte Stropp and Louis Cant, 8-3.
Doubles play has been the lifeblood for the Razorbacks all season long as they have won nearly 70 matches combined and claimed 15 possible doubles points against their spring opponents.
Last time Ole Miss and Arkansas faced off this season, the Rebels were 14th in the nation, while Arkansas was No. 39. Scoring was hard to come by for the Hogs as Ole Miss claimed the doubles point and then went on to win five out of the six singles matches. However, junior Manfred Jeske did come away with a ranked victory over No. 61 Chris Theimann, 6-2, 6-4, his third ranked win of the year. Jeske will look for his second victory over the Rebels this season on Thursday.
Arkansas and Ole Miss are set to get things going tomorrow at 5 p.m. in Starkville, Miss. The winner of the match will move on to face No. 4 seed Florida on Friday, which will also start at 5 p.m. Live stats and the live blog will be available during the match. For complete coverage of the Razorback men’s tennis team or University athletics, please log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Download: 2012 men’s tennis bracket.pdf