Jan. 29, 2012
BY AMANDA PRUITT
Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham is still waiting for a full six-court performance from the Vols, but enough of the team was up to the task Sunday to get Tennessee into the second round of ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
With the freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Brandon Fickey victorious at the top of the lineup once again, sophomore Jarryd Chaplin clinched the Vols' 4-2 win over Michigan State at Goodfriend Tennis Center to start the two-day tournament.
"I think `relief' is a good word," Winterbotham said. "We wanted to do really well this weekend. Michigan State is a team that has improved a lot and played really well. As coaches, we know we didn't give a great performance but we were able to come out with a win. I'm not saying I'm happy but would say I'm relieved we get to fight another day."
The 24th-ranked Vols (3-1) now face 23rd-ranked Mississippi on Monday in the finals of the two-day tournament. The match starts at 5 p.m. at Goodfriend Tennis Center.
The winner of the early SEC battle earns a spot in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, an event the Vols have reached the finals of the last two years.
Mississippi shut out No. 15 Oklahoma 4-0 in its opening match.
"I think tomorrow will be great," Winterbotham said. "We have an opportunity to play a really good Ole Miss team. It's a conference rival and there's a good history between the two teams, and I expect everyone's best tomorrow."
With four Vols playing in their first tournament-style dual match, Tennessee was able to shake off some nerves in the early games in doubles and take comfortable leads on every court.
Fickey and junior Edward Jones earned an 8-2 win over Drew Lied and Mat Nelson on court 2, and five minutes later, Libietis and fellow freshman Hunter Reese won their ninth match together, beating Austin Brooks and Aaron Pfister 8-4 on court 1 to give the Vols the 1-0 lead.
Entering singles play, Tennessee and Michigan State split the six first sets. The Spartans briefly tied the match 1-1 when Lied beat Jones 6-2, 6-2, but Tennessee regained momentum after that. Libietis, playing his fourth match on court 1, put the Vols ahead for good with a 6-2, 6-3 victory against Denis Bogatov.
Fickey continued his impressive play on court 2. The Knoxville freshman improved to 4-0 in dual matches by beating Ronnie Hulewicz 6-2, 6-2. He improved to a team-leading 12-5 on the season.
"I've told a lot of people I've got a very fiery personality and I hate to lose ever," Fickey said. "I'll do whatever it takes to get the W. A lot of that is keeping myself energetic. Guys saying `C'mon' and stuff like that keeps the momentum going forward for the whole team."
Michigan State picked up its second point when Reese was broken once in each set and lost 6-3, 6-3 to Pfister on court 3.
As a reserve starter last season, Chaplin had played his fair share of big matches as a freshman. Because of illnesses on the team, he played in the Vols' run to the title match of last year's ITA National Indoors. So when it came time to close out of tournament match, Chaplin was ready for the job.
The sophomore from Sydney, Australia, defeated Brooks 6-4, 6-3 to clinch the a tournament match for the first time in his career.
"It's always good being the fourth point, finally closing it out," Chaplin said. "It was a big weight off our shoulders. Yes, it's good, but it's no different than the other boys who got a win today. Everyone did a great job."
The ITA Kick-Off Weekend is now in its fourth year of existence and serves as a qualifying tournament for the National Indoors. Tennessee has a 7-0 record in this event. As host of the national tournament, Virginia has an automatic bid into the field of 16.
Tennessee 4, Michigan State 2
1. Mikelis Libietis (UT) def. Denis Bogatov (MSU) 6-2, 6-3
2. Brandon Fickey (UT) def. Ronnie Hulewicz (MSU) 6-2, 6-2
3. Aaron Pfister (MSU) def. Hunter Reese (UT) 6-3, 6-3
4. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) def. Austin Brooks (MSU) 6-4, 6-3
5. Drew Lied (MSU) def. Edward Jones (UT) 6-2, 6-2
6. Taylor Patrick (UT) vs. Gijs Linders (MSU) 6-7 (4-7), 4-1, DNF
1. #33 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) def. Austin Brooks/Aaron Pfister (MSU) 8-4
2. Brandon Fickey/Edward Jones (UT) def. Drew Lied/Mat Nelson (MSU) 8-2
3. Peter Nagovnak/Jarryd Chaplin (UT) vs. Harry Jadun/Denis Bogatov (MSU) 7-4, UNF
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (5,1,2,3,4,6)