With his fifth year at the reigns of the Mississippi State men's tennis program behind him, head coach Per Nilsson is moving forward and putting State tennis back in the national picture. In just five years, the former Bulldog standout has produced 12 All-SEC standouts, three players to All-American status and numerous academic honors including 17 athletes being named to the SEC academic honor roll for the 2011 season and leading the 2011 Bulldog squad to the highest GPA ever for any MSU varsity sport with a mark of 3.85.
The spring of 2012 brought a well-formed Maroon and White squad ready to make even more noise on the national circuit. Coming off impressive performaces in the recent spring and fall seasons in 2011, coach Nilsson would lead the Bulldogs to one of its most impressive seasons in the program's history. State improved to 20-7 (9-2 SEC) to capture their second-consecutive SEC West crown.
Nilsson's squad would post a remarkable seven victories against top 25 opponents, up from the three top 25 victories the squad posted last spring. The team would recapture the River Hills Cup, an annual battle between the Dogs and their in-state rivals from Ole Miss, making a statement early on in the 2012 season. Nilsson's highlight moment of the 2012 season came in back-to-back road victories against 19th-ranked Tennessee and 11th-ranked Florida. Nilsson would lead his team back to the NCAA Championships, the 21st appearance in school history, where the Bulldogs would host Regional play for the first time in school history. The team would advance to the second round after defeating Alcorn State, 4-0, but fell just short of their first Round of 16 showing since 2001, losing to Baylor 4-3.
Nilsson's squad also posted 20 victories, a feat that had not been accomplised since the 1998 campaign, to cap a very successful season. The Dogs would earn as high a rank 9th nationally and finish ranked 11th in the nation, making it Nilsson's first top 15 squad. The fifth year would also bring about five total singles players ranked at season's end, setting a new record for the program.
He would produce two All-Americans in Artem Ilyushin and Louis Cant, making 20 total in the program's history. Nilsson had two players named to the Capital One Academic All-America team and three named to the Capital One Academic All-District VI team. Nilsson had two players named to the First Team All-SEC, while having Ilyushin named ITA Southern Region Senior of the Year and SEC Player of the Week three times. Sophomore Malte Stropp was named the 2012 ITA Southern Region Player to Watch, following another successful season for one of Nilsson's top recruits of the 2010 class.
In the 2011 fall season Nilsson led his Bulldog squad to four singles wins over ranked opponents and one doubles victory over a ranked duo. Based on last season's results Nilsson had three players begin the fall term nationally ranked and one newcomer was ranked as the 10th best newcomer nationally according to ITA Tennis. Nilsson also had a doubles team ranked 11th nationally to begin fall play. Nilsson coached four singles players and two doubles duos at the ITA All-American Championships, picking up six total victories at the national event. Nilsson also was instrumental in leading a Bulldog doubles duo to a runner-up finish at the ITA Southern Regional Championships.
In the spring of 2011, Nilsson led the Bulldogs to one of the most impressive seasons in MSU history since the turn of the century. Following a below .500 previous season, Nilsson made lengthy strides to take Mississippi State on a 14-9 season en route to an SEC Western Division crown. MSU finished 8-3 in the SEC this past spring while finishing 5-0 in the West.
Nilsson's highlight triumph came on the first of April where he led the Bulldogs to a surprising 6-1 victory over the 4th ranked Vols of Tennessee. This was MSU's highest-ranking triumph since their victory over #4 Kentucky in 2002. In addition to this outstanding season, he had the Bulldogs ranked as high as #19, concluding the spring with a 20th national ranking. Nilsson had three players named Second Team All-SEC along with two freshman to the SEC All-Freshman squad. One of these freshmen was the impressive Malte Stropp. Stropp earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors four times this spring, was named the Southeastern Conference's Rookie of the Year and the ITA's Southern Region Rookie of the Year.
In addition to these honors, all of Nilsson's recruits were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll as well as the ITA Scholar Athlete list. To cap off an impressive run this past spring, Nilsson led MSU to Atlanta for the first and second round of the NCAA Championships before falling to Georgia Tech in the 2nd. With these phenomenal results, Nilsson was named the SEC's Coach of the Year along with being named the ITA's Southern Region Coach of the Year.
In his sophomore season as the head man for the Maroon and White, he led MSU to a 4-2 non-conference slate and picked up two conference victories, ending the dual match season with a 6-15 record. Individually through Nilsson's leadership, Ryan Farlow was honored to the all-SEC second team, reached as high as 88th in the national singles rankings, was named MSU's overall Newsom Award winner among male student-athletes (awarded to the Bulldog who holds the highest grade point average) and was also named an ITA Scholar Athlete and Academic all-SEC. Nilsson also coached prize-recruit Artem Ilyushin to all-SEC freshman honors in his first year at State.
Upon his first year of work as the top man of the men's tennis program, Nilsson guided MSU to an 8-12 dual match record in 2008, including back-to-back SEC wins, with one coming over then-ranked 23rd Auburn, two all-SEC performers in graduating seniors, Ivan Bjelica and Philippe Fraysinnoux and an all-American selection for Bjelica, for his individual performance at the NCAA Tournament.
Nilsson along with the help of assistant coach Matt Hill, did a stellar job marketing the Bulldog men's tennis program through public speaking opportunities, advertisements and various promotions to help MSU earn the fifth highest national average attendance in 2009, averaging 266 spectators per match at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
Nilsson came to MSU from Pepperdine University where he spent five years as an assistant. During that period, he was instrumental in the resurgence of the Waves tennis program on the national level. PU was 119-38 in his five seasons on staff while extending the school's streak of West Coast Conference titles to 17 straight.
Easily highlighting his resume while in Malibu was the 2006 campaign when Pepperdine claimed its first-ever national championship. Nilsson was very involved in Pepperdine's recruiting efforts leading up to that season, which saw the Waves post a 36-2 record and hand Georgia its only loss of the season in the NCAA title match at Stanford, Calif.
Leading up to that crowning season, Pepperdine improved from 27th in the country in 2004 to No. 8 nationally in '05, a year in which Nilsson was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's West Region Assistant Coach of the Year. The Waves advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals that campaign, ending at 24-3.
Prior to moving to Malibu, Nilsson spent seven years teaching tennis in the Atlanta, Ga. area. From 2000-02, Nilsson served as the director of tennis at the St. Marlo Country Club. Among his duties were to manage the facility, develop tennis programs, supervise the tennis staff and coach team and individual tennis. From 1998-2000, Nilsson was the Director of Tennis at Appalachee Farms. In that capacity, Nilsson managed and directed all tennis activities. Nilsson spent three prior years as the head tennis pro at the Capital City Country Club.
The 18th head coach in State men's tennis lore, Nilsson also served as a student assistant coach for the Bulldogs during the 1995 season. During that year, Nilsson helped the Bulldogs garner a NCAA Quarterfinals berth and finish the season ranked sixth nationally.
A four-year letterman for the Bulldogs from 1991-1994, Nilsson posted an impressive 91 career singles victories for MSU (ranks seventh all-time in career singles wins) and compiled a 73-45 mark in doubles play which is sixth best in MSU history. Nilsson was a part of the MSU squad in 1993 that captured the SEC Championship. Nilsson had a solid junior campaign in 1993, finishing the season with a 29-18 overall record. He posted 16 dual match wins which was second best on the team that season. During his senior year in 1994, Nilsson served as the co-captain of the team and helped lead State to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.
While at State, Nilsson reached as high as 19th nationally in the singles rankings during his senior season.
"We are very proud of the effort and results Per (Nilsson) has accomplished in his short time here at Mississippi State," said Scott Stricklin, second-year Athletic Director of MSU. "It is evident by the talent that he is bringing to MSU as well as the preparation he puts into practice and the matches that MSU tennis will soon be among the nation's elite again."
In addition to his coaching duties, Nilsson also presently serves as the chair for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Southern Regional Committee. In that role, he is influential in determining the ITA regional and national rankings, selecting entrants into the ITA's national tournaments, and choosing ITA regional and national award winners.
A native of Lund, Sweden, Nilsson was a high school exchange student at Jackson (Miss.) Academy as a prepster and was the 1990 Mississippi Academy singles champion. He is married to the former Beth Vennerstrom of St. Augustine, Fla.