April 1, 2011 9:04:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s men''s tennis team is in an unfamiliar position in second place in the Southeastern Conference''s Western Division
No. 32 MSU is 4-2 in the league and two games behind weekend opponents University of Tennessee and Georgia for the overall lead in the SEC.
After sweeping Nebraska and falling to Florida, 4-3, last weekend, MSU coach Per Nilsson believes his players have enough poise to contend for a title this season.
"We had some holes in the lineup before we don''t have now," Nilsson said. "They''re acting like they''re supposed to be at the top."
MSU will take on the SEC''s top team, No. 4 Tennessee, at 1 p.m. today at the Pitts Tennis Centre. The Volunteers (16-2, 6-0) have five ranked singles players, led by sophomore Rhyne Williams, who is No. 4 nationally. Senior John-Patrick Smith is 12th and has only dropped two dual matches. Tennys Sandgren, a sophomore, is ranked 48th and is a 14-0 in dual-match play.
MSU will counter with No. 76 George Coupland, No. 94 Artem Ilyushin, and 76th-ranked Louis Cant, who has won six of his past seven matches.
"It''s not going to be much different than facing Florida," Nilsson said. "The difference between the really good teams is they don''t just have one, they have six really good players. Georgia and Tennessee are really close, but I think we''re right behind them."
The Bulldogs'' loss to Florida exposed flaws that concern Nilsson. It was another close match that could have been a boost for MSU''s chances of earning a high seed in the NCAA tournament. MSU''s lagging doubles play also prevented it from earning the win.
The Bulldogs have won just two of 17 doubles matches in their dual losses this season, including three losses to Florida.
Nilsson said former doubles partners and 2010 NCAA qualifiers Ilyushin and Coupland will play No. 1 doubles this weekend. They have played together three times this season. Nilsson hopes his top two singles players can help the team overcome its woes in doubles play.
"It''s been a concern because we haven''t been winning against the good teams," Nilsson said. "We''ve yet to beat a really good team in doubles. Last year, we beat Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in doubles. We were the only team to beat Tennessee in doubles last year.
"Part of it has been having three new players in the lineup, and then the pairings haven''t been the same. We''ve had trouble trying to find the chemistry between all three teams. We feel like we''re getting close."
MSU will play host to Georgia on Sunday.
MSU golf team flipping script
A last-place finish at the Schenkel Invitational in Georgia was all MSU men''s golf coach Clay Homan needed to see.
His Bulldogs finished 20 shots behind the next nearest team and struggled to control the distance on their shots. MSU''s short game was equally disappointing.
With one event left before the SEC tournament, Homan has given his players a chance to qualify for the squad he''ll take to the Reunion Intercollegiate, which tees off Monday at Reunion Golf and Country Club in Madison.
"I think everyone knows we haven''t been getting the job done and someone needs to step up," Homan said. "The guys who have been comfortably in the lineup should feel a little bit of pressure. It''s necessary to shake it up a little bit. Fifteenth wasn''t good at all."
Homan is so keen to find a spark he has picked redshirt freshman Barrett Edens to travel to Madison. Edens, who hasn''t participated in a tournament this spring, performed well in the team''s three qualifying rounds this week. He and John Darden are the only two players to secure spots as of Thursday afternoon.
"Edens is getting better and he earned his spot this week," Homan said. "We''ll just see how it goes. He''s gained some consistency. During spring break, he went to St. Augustine, Florida, and finished 15th in an individual tournament. It''s his first event and we''ll see how it goes."
Homan said the Reunion course suits his players better than the course they played at the Schenkel, as most of MSU''s golfers are long-ball hitters. They''ll still be tested around the green, though, and Homan has increased wedge drills and work with scoring clubs.
"We''re trying to get some spin off the ball and get our guys controlling their swings better," Homan said. "We got exposed at the Schenkle with our short game."