March 11, 2012
The Tennessee Volunteers' bid for a second top-15 win of the season fell a few points short Sunday afternoon at Barksdale Stadium.
The Vols showed no signs of quit after losing a close doubles point but could not completely overcome No. 12 Mississippi State's veteran lineup, losing 4-3 in a match that also counted as the finals of the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic.
The 19th-ranked Vols (8-9, 1-3 SEC) rallied to take four first sets in singles, but Mississippi State turned the tide to win two of the three remaining matches on court. Senior Artem Ilyushin beat Tennessee freshmen Mikelis Libietis 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on court 1 to clinch the match at 4-2.
"This program is all about honesty -- it's for tough guys," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "The coaches demand a lot. What we have is a bunch of guys who are getting tougher. That makes me excited.
"That's why I do this job -- to see boys grow into men. Whether they win or lose, they need to compete to win. That's what they need to do in life. We're hammering that message on a daily basis."
With the win, Mississippi State also clinched the Blue Gray title. Both the Bulldogs and Vols had finished the tournament two weeks ago with 3-0 records, so officials decided the regularly scheduled SEC match between the finalists would determine the winner.
The doubles point proved to be a match-changer for the Vols. After Fickey and Chaplin lost 8-5 on court 2, Libietis and fellow freshmen Hunter Reese reeled off their seventh consecutive win on court 1, beating 23rd-ranked Louis Cant and Malte Stropp 8-5.
In the deciding match on court 3, Jones and senior Bryan Swartz were unable to convert multiple break points throughout the match and were up 0-40 twice. Swartz was broken to end the match 8-6 to Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson.
"The doubles point is crucial," Winterbotham said. "We had it. We had an opportunity to win the doubles point and we didn't execute. We'll work on that. We'll be good."
Tennessee rebounded in singles to take four of six first sets. Mississippi State increased its lead to 2-0 early when White defeated junior Taylor Patrick 6-2, 6-3 on court 6.
The Vols tied the match at 2-2 with a pair of Vols earning their best career wins. Chaplin defeated No. 37 Louis Cant 6-4, 6-3 on court 4, good for his first ranked victory. Jones followed a few minutes later on court 5, beating No. 41 George Coupland 6-3, 6-4.
Mississippi State got the points they needed to clinch. With three matches on left court, the Bulldogs took two of them. James Chaudry beat Reese 6-4, 6-3 on court 2, and then Ilyushin stayed unbeaten in the SEC by defeating Libietis in three sets.
After the match was clinched, Fickey earned his first back-to-back wins since January. He defeated last season's SEC Freshman of the Year Malte Stropp 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
After a 5-2 loss to Mississippi on Friday in which coaches and players alike voiced disappointment at the lack of a full-court effort, the tough loss Sunday showed definite signs of an improving team with freshmen playing at the top three positions.
Jones, the lone returning starter, knows full well what it takes to be of court for a championship-level team. He is the last remaining Vol who played in the NCAA final against Southern California in 2010. This season is shaping up to be his best in singles as he improved to a team-leading 6-1 since the outdoor season started three weeks ago.
"If you put in 100 percent effort, we're going to start winning matches," Jones said. "Unfortunately today we didn't win but overall we gave a lot better effort today than we did on Friday. The boys know it; I know it; the coaches know it. It's tough, but it's an attitude thing."
The Vols host Baylor in a final non-conference match on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Mississippi State 4, Tennessee 3
1. Artem Ilyushin (MSTATE) def. Mikelis Libietis (UT) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
2. James Chaudry (MSTATE) def. Hunter Reese (UT) 6-4, 6-3
3. Brandon Fickey (UT) def. Malte Stropp (MSTATE) 6-2, 4-6, 7-5
4. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) def. Louis Cant (MSTATE) 6-4, 6-3
5. Edward Jones (UT) def. George Coupland (MSTATE) 6-3, 6-4
6. Zach White (MSTATE) def. Taylor Patrick (UT) 6-2, 6-3
1. Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) def. Louis Cant/Malte Stropp (MSTATE) 8-5
2. Artem Ilyushin/George Coupland (MSTATE) def. Jarryd Chaplin/Brandon Fickey (UT) 8-5
3. Ethan Wilkinson/Zach White (MSTATE) def. Bryan Swartz/Edward Jones (UT) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1,3); Singles (6,5,4,2,1,3)