May 1, 2012
The Vols will face UNC Wilmington in the opening round of the NCAA Tennis Championships next week in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Tennessee (14-13) is the second highest-ranked team of the four schools in the North Carolina region. Host and overall 15th-seeded North Carolina (13-7) faces College of Charleston (18-4) in the other match.
Tennessee match against UNC Wilmington is May 12 at 9 a.m., with North Carolina and College of Charleston following at noon. The winners play May 13 at 1 p.m.
The winner of the four-team region advances to the final 16. The remaining matches will be played out May 18-22 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
"We would have loved to have hosted, but we actually really like our draw," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We guessed either North Carolina would come to us or we would go to them. They're a very good team. To be in their regional, it's a tough place to go. We need to be prepared for every team in that regional."
Tennessee held the No. 16 national ranking in the most recent published poll by the ITA. Per the NCAA's request, the ITA did not publicly release this week's team or individual rankings. Illinois moved ahead of the Vols by upsetting top-five Ohio State in the championship of the Big 10 Tournament over the weekend.
The Vols have played UNC Wilmington only once, a 7-0 victory in 2008. While the two teams have very little dual match experience against each other historically, both schools play often in fall singles and doubles tournaments around the region.
"We know UNC Wilmington is a very good program," Winterbotham said. "Their coach does a very good job of getting their players ready, and they compete well. We're sort of familiar with that team by playing them in tournaments throughout the fall. We know we've got our work cut out in the first round, and that's all we're focusing on right now."
The Vols returned just one starter from a squad that won back-to-back SEC Championships, but the team has remained in the top 20 for a majority season with a trio of freshmen playing the top three in the singles lineup.
All-SEC freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese have led the way in Tennessee's lineup this year on courts one and two in singles. They have also teamed up for form the 12th-ranked doubles pairing in the nation.
Libietis, a first-team All-SEC selection, has started every match at the top of both the Vols' lineups and has a team-leading 20-13 record in singles. He is ranked 30th nationally and will likely receive a bid to the NCAA Singles Championships. The Vols have had participants in the singles tournament every year since 2007.
Reese will probably just miss the cut in singles at a ranking of No. 74, but he and Libietis should be in the NCAA doubles tournament, an event in which the Vols have boasted one title and three finalists, including two in the last three years.
Head coach Sam Winterbotham has led the Vols to NCAA tournament appearances all six years he has been at Tennessee. He has a 13-5 record in the NCAAs. This marks the second year during his tenure the Vols have been on the road for the opening rounds. The team traveled to Ohio State in 2007.