South Carolina Tackles Top-15 Foes on the Road
COLUMBIA, S.C. - No. 20 South Carolina embarks on its final road trip of the regular season to take on a pair of top-15 opponents. The Gamecocks (15-7, 5-3 SEC) open the weekend at No. 13 Mississippi State on Fri., Apr. 5, at 3 p.m. (ET) then head to No. 7 Ole Miss for a 2 p.m. (ET) match on Sun., Apr. 7. South Carolina will be looking for its second top-20 win this season and its first top-15 win since 2009.
The Gamecocks are currently tied for the fourth-best record in the SEC at 5-3 in league play. The five SEC wins are the most since 2006 and, with four matches remaining in the season, are within striking distance of the school record of seven, set in 1999. South Carolina is in the midst of a four-match win streak thanks to the improved play of senior Harry Menzies and junior Chip Cox, who combined for a 6-2 record during the streak after going winless through the first four SEC contests of the season. The Gamecocks continue to get steady contributions from its sophomore class - Kyle Koch, who remains undefeated in league play at 7-0; Andrew Adams, who is ranked No. 90 in the nation, has won three straight to get to 4-1 in league play; and Thiago Pinheiro, who is 2-1 in league play since moving into the No. 3 spot in the order and remains the emotional core of the squad. Junior Tsvetan Mihov added a pair of decisive wins last week to set the tone for the Gamecocks' comeback from dropping the doubles point and is 4-2 in the SEC, playing at the top of the order.
"Playing two top-15 teams this weekend comes at a good time for us," South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. "We're playing well as a team, and each guy is playing well in his own right. These teams have some losses, and we've earned some respect so, if we come ready to play, we have some good opportunities to get some key wins. At the same time, I'm a little worried about this weekend. We're still a young team in terms of growth, and this is all a new experience for them - winning four in a row and learning how to carry that confidence and pressure into matches. As coaches, it's our duty to prepare our players mentally, because physically we are there."
Mississippi State is ranked 13th in the nation this week behind a 13-7 record that includes just a 3-5 mark in SEC play. The Bulldogs have faced the league's elite in the last three weeks, falling to four top-10 teams during the stretch. A win at Arkansas briefly snapped a four-match skid, but MSU came up just short against arch-rival Ole Miss last Sunday in its last outing. Freshman Romain Bogaerts is leading the way for the Bulldogs, ranked No. 20 in the nation behind a 26-9 record that includes a 4-3 mark in SEC action, playing at the top of the Bulldogs' lineup. Junior Malte Stropp holds a No. 50 national ranking with his 18-7 record. Playing second in the order, he is 2-2 in league play. Stropp combines with Jordan Angus at the top of the doubles lineup. The duo's 17-11 overall record includes a 2-3 mark in SEC play and has the duo ranked No. 15 in the nation.
Ole Miss sits atop the SEC's Western Division with a 6-3 league record as part of its 13-5 overall slate, which includes three top-10 victories. The Rebels are all over the singles rankings with three entries and have two teams among the nation's best doubles tandems. After opening the SEC season with four straight wins, including victories over Georgia and Tennessee, Ole Miss endured a three-match skid that it stopped with a pair of wins over Arkansas and rival Mississippi State. Sophomore Nik Scholtz and senior Jonas Lutjen are the driving force behind the Rebels' success, ranked No. 8 and 12 in the nation, respectively. Scholtz anchors the top of the lineup with an 11-4 record that includes a 5-3 mark in SEC play. His 19-6 overall record includes a 7-4 mark against nationally ranked opponents, including three wins against top-20 players. Lutjen is a sterling 13-5 against ranked foes as part of his 26-9 season ledger. His 10-5 record in dual-match play includes a 6-3 mark in the SEC, playing in the No. 2 spot in the order. Sophomore William Kallberg rounds out the ranked Rebels, coming in at No. 84 behind a 21-9 record. Scholtz and Lutjen team up to rank fourth in the nation in doubles with a 16-5 record highlighted by a 6-1 mark in SEC play. Johan Backstrom and Stefan Lindmark are 13-8 in doubles, including a 6-3 record in SEC play to rank 67th in the country.
South Carolina returns to Columbia and Carolina Tennis Center next weekend for its final regular-season weekend. The Gamecocks host No. 14 Vanderbilt on Fri., April 12, at 5 p.m. and take on No. 8 Kentucky on Sun., April 14, 1 p.m. The team will have a Senior Day ceremony prior to Sunday's match.