March 7, 2012
BY AMANDA PRUITT
When the Vols host the two Magnolia State schools this weekend, more than just two critical SEC wins will be up for grabs.
Specifically, a trophy and a blue blazer will be the prizes at stake.
Tennessee's meeting with Mississippi State on Sunday at 1 p.m. will double as the championship match of the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic, a tournament both teams played in two weeks ago that was undecided.
The Vols, Mississippi State and Auburn all when 3-0 in round robin play at the Blue Gray in Montgomery, Ala. The Vols and Mississippi State were selected as finalists by having the fewest number of individual losses. The Bulldogs lost one match, the Vols had four and Auburn had five.
Tennessee last played -- and won -- the tournament in 2009. The Vols rolled through four matches of the 16-team tournament, beating Alabama 4-2 in the final. John-Patrick Smith was named tournament MVP for his unbeaten performance at No. 1 singles.
The Blue Gray is a traditional tournament one in every Southern sense, an annual contest that dates back 60 years. The champion school's name is engraved on the trophy, and the winning coach is given a royal blue blazer with the Blue Gray crest.
WE MEET AGAIN
The Vols' match Friday against Mississippi at 1 p.m. will be the second meeting between the teams in Knoxville this season.
Tennessee rallied to beat Mississippi 4-3 on Jan. 29 in the final of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend to punch the ticket for the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va.
Tennessee took the doubles point and then split the six first sets with the Rebels. The Vols were about to take four firsts sets when junior Edward Jones injured his ankle on court 5. While Jones was able to continue playing, it was not the same. His presence, however, proved inspiring for the remaining Vols.
Sophomore Jarryd Chaplin provided a win on court 4, but the Rebels took wins on courts 2, 5 and 6 to lead 3-2. Freshman Mikelis Libietis defeated another star freshman in the conference, Nik Scholtz, in three sets on court 1 to tie the match.
Everything came down to court 3, where Hunter Reese rallied in the final two sets and broke Jonas Lutjen to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the decider.
Here's a look at the box score from the first meeting:
1. #125 Mikelis Libietis (UT) def. Nik Scholtz (OM) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3
2. #27 Marcel Thiemann (OM) def. Brandon Fickey (UT) 6-2, 6-1
3. #119 Hunter Reese (UT) def. #98 Jonas Lutjen (OM) 1-6, 7-5, 6-3
4. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) def. William Kallberg (OM) 6-3, 6-4
5. Chris Thiemann (OM) def. Edward Jones (UT) 7-6 (7-5), 6-2
6. Johan Backstrom (OM) def. #117 Taylor Patrick (UT) 2-6, 6-4, 6-0
1. Reese/ Libietis (UT) def. Thiemann/Thiemann (OM) 8-3
2. Fickey/Jones (UT) vs. Lutjen/Scholtz (OM) 4-6, DNF
3. Chaplin/ Nagovnak (UT) def. Backstrom/ Kallberg (OM) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (2,4,6,5,1,3)
JONES & THE GREAT OUTDOORS
In the first two weeks of outdoor matches, junior Edward Jones has been a consistent winner for the Vols. Tennessee's only returning starter from last year is now 5-0 in singles since the transition outside.
While Jones grew up playing a majority of his tennis on indoor courts in Wales, the midseason shift outside has helped turn around his dual match season. He is now 13-11 and importantly, 2-0 to start SEC competition with wins on court 5 against Florida and South Carolina.
He also was the only Vol to go 3-0 at the Blue Gray, clinching the 4-1 win against Boise State.
FRESHMEN SEC DEBUT
Freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese got off to quick starts in their conference careers. Both young Vols went 2-0 on courts 1 and 3 respectively over the weekend on the road.
Libietis improved at 16-5 this season and collected two more ranked wins against No. 51 Bob van Overbeek of Florida and No. 92 Nick Jones of South Carolina. Libietis faced four match points in the windy conditions at South Carolina before finishing off Jones to up his record to 8-4 in dual matches.
Reese has the first winner off the court for the Vols in both matches. He extended his winning streak to a career best four matches, beating Florent Diep of Florida 6-4, 6-2 and Ivan Machado of South Carolina 6-1, 6-1
NO. 1 TEAM CONTINUES CLIMB
At the top of the doubles lineup, Tennessee has featured a freshman cast there too. Libietis and Reese have formed the Vols' most successful team this season. They are 10-2 in dual matches and enter the home weekend on a five-match winning streak.
Libietis and Reese are currently ranked 17th nationally, but are likely to rise when the new list is released Tuesday.