May 10, 2013 11:08:58 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Two members of the Mississippi State University men's tennis team remember what the end felt like last year.
Malte Stropp and Zach White weren't healthy entering their 2012 NCAA Regional second-round match against Baylor University. They felt even sicker after losing their matches in what turned out to be a season-ending team loss.
Both players will get a chance at redemption starting today when No. 10 MSU (16-9) plays host to its second straight NCAA Regional at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
"If you're an upperclassmen on this team, you know how it feels to get to the second round of a regional in back-to-back years only to be sent home," Stropp said. "We're determined to get to the round of 16 this year and beyond, if possible, and we know this is our best shot to do it."
Two years ago, MSU lost to national seed Georgia Tech University in the second round in Atlanta.
MSU will open play in the NCAA Championship at 1 p.m. today against Austin Peay University (17-3). No. 27 Harvard University (18-5) and No. 63 Samford University (15-9) are scheduled to play in the first match at 10 a.m. today.
If there is rain, competition could be moved indoors to MSU's McCarthy Gymnasium. In that situation, tickets will still be required for entry and will be available on the west side of the McCarthy Gym.
"We understand that by hosting in this sport it usually means you'll move on to the round of 16, but we were one of the exceptions last year," MSU coach Per Nilsson said.
Austin Peay is making its first appearance in the NCAA Championship. The Governors won their first Ohio Valley Conference title since 1974, and have won 17 of their last 18 matches. The one conference loss came to Tennessee Tech, which MSU defeated 5-0 earlier this season. MSU is 6-0 all-time against Austin Peay.
The winners will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in the second round for the right to advance to the round of 16 on May 16 at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill.
As a top-16 national seed, MSU hopes to win twice at home and reach the round of 16, a feat it has accomplished 10 times in its history, but not since 2001.
Freshman Romain Bogaerts, who is No. 6 in the nation, and Stropp, who is No. 57, lead the singles lineup. Stropp scared Nilsson last week when he tweaked his ankle. The injury reminding everybody about the severe groin injury that hindered Stropp in his singles and doubles losses last year against Baylor.
"I'm excited to be healthy and playing my best tennis," Stropp said. "We have it all right now. Talent, chemistry, and experience, so I'm pumped."
White, who was coming off strep throat, had to fight off six match points before falling in a second-set tiebreaker last year. The match lasted 6 hours, 42 minutes, which included a rain delay that forced it into the two-court McCarthy Gymnasium.
"I just tried to take the positives from that match to the next season knowing I did some really good things," White said. "The negatives had to be immediately thrown out in my mind."
Stropp has rebounded in his junior season to earn second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors. He teamed with freshman Jordan Angus to win nine matches and earn a No. 12 national ranking. Stropp and Angus defeated Auburn University's No. 1 team of Dan Cochrane and Andreas Mies in dual-match play, marking the first doubles victory against the nation's No. 1 team for the Bulldogs since 2001.
"They initially fought me on the pairing, to be honest," Nilsson said. "Now they're playing better together than they every thought possible, and will room together in the fall next year."
Bogaerts, the SEC Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-SEC selection, has a 15-6 dual-match record. He went 6-3 in the SEC.
"People don't realize this, but he was just one of four freshmen in that class, and we had no idea he would be the one to break through and play No. 1 singles in this league with so much success," Nilsson said.