May 10, 2012
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese are both at career bests in the ITA national singles rankings entering their first NCAA Championships.
Libietis clocked in at No. 28 and Reese is No. 72. Both produced 2-0 performances at the SEC Championships, with Libietis earning his first top-10 singles win against then-No. 10 Artem Ilyushin.
Libietis will play in the NCAA Singles Championships following the team tournament in Athens, Ga. He and Reese, ranked 12th together, are in the doubles tournament as well.
Both Vols earned All-SEC rankings and were named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
In the team rankings, the Vols (14-13) are tied with Auburn for 17th. Illinois squeezed ahead of both SEC teams after upsetting top-five Ohio State in the final of the Big Ten Championships.
AGAINST IN UNC WILMINGTON
The Vols open the NCAA Championships on Saturday against UNC Wilmington at 9 a.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C. The winner of the match then plays Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets are $5 per day.
Tennessee faced Wilmington only one time, and that was in 2008 in a 7-0 early-season indoor victory in Knoxville. That said, this will be the first neutral-site match between the two teams.
THOSE WITH EXPERIENCE
While three Vols had previously played in the SEC Championships before this year's tournament, only two have taken the court for Tennessee at NCAAs: Edward Jones and Bryan Swartz.
Few players in the NCAA field can boast the extensive NCAA team doubles experience of Jones. In two seasons, he has a 7-1 record in the tournament, all on court 3. He is slated to play on court 2 with Jarryd Chaplin this time around. He is also 2-1 in singles.
Jones was named to the 2010 NCAA All-Tournament Team for No. 3 doubles after he and Matteo Fago went 5-0 in the Vols' six matches, including 4-0 at the final site. They clinched the doubles point in the championship match against Southern California.
To look at Swartz' NCAA history, you must look back a few years to his freshman season in 2009. He and Matt Brewer went 0-3 at the No. 3 position.
AT THE REGIONAL SITE
The Vols have a 20-6 record in the first two rounds of the NCAA Championships since the tournament was expanded from 16 to 64 teams in the mid-1990s. More often than not, Tennessee has played the regional four-team competition in Knoxville, where the Vols have been 17-1.
Head coach Sam Winterbotham has a 13-5 record at the NCAAs, including 9-1 in the first two rounds.
The last time Tennessee went on the road for the NCAAs was in 2007, Winterbotham's first season. The Vols traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and lost to host Ohio State 4-1 in the second round.
GOING FOR 20
Jones and Reese are both going for their 20th singles wins of the season Saturday. Jones is 19-16 and Reese is 19-13.
Reese, who redshirted last season, has a team-leading 14 victories in dual matches this year. He played the first half of the season on court 3 but moved up to court 2 in the second week of SEC play.
Libietis leads the team with a 20-13 record, having played every match at the No. 1 position.
TRAVEL TO CHAPEL HILL
The Vols arrived in Chapel Hill on Wednesday afternoon to train on North Carolina's home courts. Rain forced the Vols indoors Wednesday, but the weather forecast looks clear for the remainder of Tennessee's stay in Carolina.
Tennessee has not played a match in Chapel Hill since 1984. The Vols and North Carolina have not faced regular-season non-conference matches since the mid-1980s. The two schools last met in 2000 with the Vols winning 4-2 in the NCAA round of 32 on their way to the national semifinals.