April 27, 2011
Once again, senior John-Patrick Smith made history Wednesday by earning back-to-back SEC Player of the Year accolades.
Smith went 9-1 in singles and 9-2 in doubles in the top two positions in the Vols' lineup to help lead Tennessee to its first back-to-back regular-season SEC titles in program history.
"Like last year, it's obviously a great honor to receive this award again," said Smith, a native of Townsville, Australia. "There were a lot of other players who could have earned it this year. I'm just glad to be part of a great team again with great coaches. Now we're looking forward to the rest of the season."
Four Vols earned first-team All-SEC honors, twice as many first-team selections than any other school. Smith was joined on the list by senior Boris Conkic and sophomores Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren.
With the postseason conference honors decided, the fourth-ranked Vols (21-4, 10-1 SEC) with find out their seeding for the NCAA Championships on May 3. The tournament begins May 13 with the Vols likely to host the first two rounds.
Smith's career at Tennessee has been nothing short of historic in terms of wins and accolades with a month to go. He became the second conference player to ever earn multiple SEC Player of the Year honors, sharing that feat with John Isner, who won the award at Georgia in 2006 and 2007 and has been ranked as high as 18 in the world in singles on the ATP Tour.
The Vols played 6 of 11 SEC matches on the road this season, and Smith clinched three of those matches. He faced six match points on his way to beating Eric Quigley 6-7 (1), 7-6 (15), 6-4 to secure a 4-2 win indoors at Kentucky, and a few weeks later, he defeated Marcel Thiemann 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 and clinched a victory at Mississippi.
In the regular-season finale at Georgia, Smith defeated Wil Spencer 7-5, 6-3 to secure a share of the conference title with the Bulldogs.
"We had a lot of close matches this year, and we were on the road a lot too," Smith said. "On the road, sometimes you just have to survive. I was the one who was able to finish the matches a few times, against Kentucky and Georgia and faced some match points. I hope those kinds of matches can prepare the team for the road ahead at the NCAAs."
As a junior, Smith went 9-1 in singles and 8-3 in doubles with Davey Sandgren on his way to 2010 SEC Player of the Year honors. He also picked up the SEC Tournament MVP trophy after going undefeated during the Vols' drive to the tournament championship.
He finished his conference career 32-8 in singles and 33-9 in doubles while playing a majority of those matches at the No. 1 position. He was named SEC Player of the Week eight times and was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2008.
Smith and Conkic, who have held the No. 1 national doubles ranking in doubles since March 1, became two of only six Vols to ever receive all-conference accolades four times. The Vols' duo went 8-1 in SEC regular-season play and also picked up a pair of wins in the SEC Championships.
Williams was the SEC Freshman of the Year last season, and lived up to the high billing again as a sophomore. The Knoxville native finished 9-2 in both singles and doubles while playing primarily at the No. 2 positions. He took over the No. 1 national singles ranking from Smith in January and February after winning the singles title at the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. He is currently ranked fifth nationally.
Like Williams, Sandgren also earned All-SEC honors for the second time after going 10-1 at No. 3 singles, improving his career conference record to 20-1. In his first season in the doubles lineup, he teamed up with Williams to go 9-2.
Per Nilsson was named SEC Coach of the Year after leading Mississippi State to the SEC Western Division title, and Mississippi State's Malte Stropp was named Freshman of the Year.
Tennessee did not regularly play a freshman in the conference lineup, and therefore no Vols were eligible for the SEC All-Freshman Team.
NCAA Tournament Draw Release
The season is not over for Smith and the Vols. The 64-team NCAA Championships draw will be released on Tuesday, May 3 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, and a selection show will be live streamed on NCAA.com. The show for the women's draw starts at 5 p.m.
SEC Season Awards
Coach of the Year: Per Nilsson, Mississippi State
Player of the Year: John-Patrick Smith, Tennessee
Freshman of the Year: Malte Stropp, Mississippi State
Scholar Athlete of the Year: Tim Puetz, Auburn
All-SEC First Team
Tim Puetz, Auburn
Alexandre Lacroix, Florida
Sekou Bangoura Jr., Florida
Wil Spencer, Georgia
Javier Garrapiz, Georgia
Eric Quigley, Kentucky
Marcel Thiemann, Ole Miss
Boris Conkic, Tennessee
John-Patrick Smith, Tennessee
Rhyne Williams, Tennessee
Ryan Lipman, Vanderbilt
All-SEC Second Team
Chris Nott, Arkansas
Alex Stamchev, Auburn
Nassim Slilam, Florida
Sadio Doumbia, Georgia
Drake Bernstein, Georgia
Alex Musialek, Kentucky
Alberto Gonzalez, Kentucky
Neal Skupski, LSU
Tucker Vorster, Ole Miss
Artem Ilyushin, Mississippi State
George Coupland, Mississippi State
Louis Cant, Mississippi State
Adam Baker, Vanderbilt
Daniil Proskura, Alabama
Andrew Butz, Florida
Hernus Pieters, Georgia
Tom Jomby, Kentucky
Malte Stropp, Mississippi State
Zach White, Mississippi State