March 7, 2003
|Dietrich VIDEO?||Henderson VIDEO?|
|Martin VIDEO?||Perna VIDEO?|
The Tennessee men's tennis team sent a loud and clear message to the rest of the Southeastern Conference Friday--Volunteer tennis is alive and well. The No. 27-ranked Vol netters proved that in convincing fashion with a 4-1 victory over No. 15 Alabama at UT's Varsity Courts. The win improved the Vols' record to 7-4 (1-2 SEC), while the Crimson Tide fell to 11-2 (1-2 SEC).
"It really showed me a lot of guts and character that [this] team could lose its opening two SEC matches last weekend and then turn it around and play such a tough, committed match today," Tennessee head coach Michael Fancutt said. "Also, it shows me the advantage of playing at home in the SEC and having the crowd behind you. The guys just played a very, very good match. They've been working really hard even though we've struggled in some of our matches. They kept their heads up and today just shows it paying off."
"This feels great," Vol junior Wade Orr said. "This almost borders with winning the SEC Tournament last year because every match we play this year, we know it's going to be tough. We're basically underdogs in each match. To win this match after losing the doubles point pretty quickly... it just feels really good."
Alabama first-year head coach Billy Pate saw his squad take a 1-0 lead in the match by winning at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles and claiming the doubles point.
Despite dropping two of the the three doubles contests on the day, Tennessee once again got a strong performance from its unranked duo of Mark Dietrich and Orr. With Friday's dismantling of Alabama's Maxim Belski and Geoff Hiscox, the pair has now won three consecutive matches at the No. 1 position, and holds a 9-2 overall record this season.
"We've been playing well all year really," Orr said. "We've been holding our serves and we've found a way to pull together and get a break in each match we've played. We haven't lost our serve in the last three matches."
Tennessee then came out firing in singles competition, taking early leads on almost every court. Orr won quickly at the No. 4 spot to put the Vols on the scoreboard. Simon Rea then won at the No. 2 position. It was Rea's 19th singles victory of the season. Sophomore Mark Henderson looked sharp, snapping a three-match SEC losing skid by defeating Alabama's Christian Brodersen 6-3, 7-5.
With only three singles contests left on the courts, and Tennessee holding a 3-1 match lead, it became evident that nothing would come easily for either team. All three matches went to a third set, and the race was on to see which team would walk away a winner.
As he has done all season long, Dietrich, currently ranked No. 69 in the nation, wore his emotions on his sleeve as he gutted out point after point in the thrilling No. 2 singles match. Finally, rallying behind constant cheers from the home crowd, Dietrich captured the third set by a score of 6-4. The crowd erupted as the big-serving sophomore pumped his fist and let out a joyous yell after clinching his team's first SEC win of the season.
"I like to be in the spotlight I guess," Dietrich said jokingly as his teammates laughed. "I had faith in my teammates, but I just put it away earlier I guess. I just tried to focus on my court and tried to be oblivious to the other two matches so I could take care of it."
"The guys all put in great performances, everybody did today," Fancutt said. "Simon Rea led from the top, beating one of the best players in the conference, (No. 63 Maxim Belski) 6-3, 6-0. All the way down to Mark Dietrich clinching the match, you don't even want to single anybody out because everybody put in a great performance all-around. It was really a great team performance."
The Vols will now look to even their conference record as they play host to No. 19 Auburn (7-2, 1-1 SEC) Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Varsity Courts. Admission to the match is free, and live scoring will be available at UTsports.com.