COLUMBIA, S.C. - No. 22 South Carolina tackles a pair of top-15 foes at Carolina Tennis Center in the final weekend of the SEC regular season. The Gamecocks (15-9, 5-5 SEC) face No. 13 Vanderbilt on Fri., April 12, at 5 p.m. before No. 8 Kentucky comes to Columbia for a 1 p.m. match on Sun., Apr. 14. Admission to tennis and parking in the Athletics Village Garage are free. South Carolina will recognize senior Harry Menzies prior to Sunday's contest for his contributions to the program's last four seasons.
"Coming off the tough losses last weekend, I'm looking for the same energy and intensity that we bring to every match, and I'm scared that we might not have it," South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. "It's tough when you go to the well and you don't get the win. It hurts. The pain in these guys' eyes was there last weekend. That's how you know you have a good team, when they hurt with that type of loss. We lost to two very good teams that have established themselves as some of the best in the country. [Our team] isn't satisfied with those outcomes. I'm expecting them to come out excited, hungry like we have been throughout the SEC season. When it gets to that tough moment of the match, that we've been so good at in sustaining our level of play and our passion, I'm anxious to see how mature and how tough the team actually is this weekend."
The Gamecocks have a pair of entries in both the singles and doubles national rankings this week, coming off a tough road trip last weekend. They will have to shake off those hard-fought, narrow defeats to a top-15 foes in order to change the outcome this weekend. South Carolina got its doubles back on track last week, winning the point in both matches. The team of juniors Chip Cox and Tsvetan Mihov are ranked No. 18 this week after defeating two ranked teams, including the nation's No. 15 tandem, to set the tone early in the match. While Kyle Koch and Harry Menzies remain ranked at No. 84, the Gamecocks newest duo of Andrew Adams and Thiago Pinheiro clinched both doubles points last week to remain undefeated in dual-match play (3-0).
In singles action, all six entries in the lineup have posted at least three SEC victories this season, the most Gamecocks to hit that mark since 2003. Sitting atop that lineup, Mihov leapt up the singles rankings into 67th with wins in three of his last four matches, including two over ranked opponents. He is 5-3 in the SEC and 13-8 on the season. Adams comes in at No. 102 in singles this week after suffering a pair of tough losses to ranked players last week. They were the first back-to-back losses for the sophomore since his first two matches back from injury in January and ended a three-match win streak that brought him back to the national rankings. Koch fell just short of completing his three-set comeback at Ole Miss on Sunday, suffering his first SEC loss of the season. His eight victories in league play this season are the sixth-most in school history and sit just two shy of the school record of 10 set by Olof Akesson in 1997.
Vanderbilt (15-7, 6-4 SEC) comes to Columbia Friday night riding a two-match win streak highlighted by last Sunday's 4-2 win over No. 8 Kentucky. Two-time All-SEC selection and 2010 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Ryan Lipman, now a junior, leads the Commodores with a 28-7 overall record that has him ranked 10th in the nation. He is 15-3 at the top of the Vandy lineup (8-2 in SEC play) and 6-3 against nationally ranked opponents. Sophomore Gonzales Austin is backing up his second-team All-SEC freshman season with a 21-10 record to get to No. 46 in the nation. He plays second in the Commodore lineup with a 10-5 record, including a 5-4 mark in SEC action. Freshman Kris Yee has made an impact in the No. 5 spot in the order, posting a 7-1 record in SEC play to boost his 23-5 overall mark.
Kentucky (19-8, 6-4 SEC) travels to Florida Friday before taking on the Gamecocks on Sunday. The Wildcats' top two singles entries are among the toughest in the county. Senior Anthony Rossi is atop the lineup with a 23-8 overall record that includes a 17-5 dual-match record and a 6-2 slate in league play. His No. 19 ranking has him just ahead of teammate Tom Jomby at No. 21. The junior's 6-3 SEC record boosts his dual-match record to 16-5 and his overall mark to 26-9. The 6-foot-6 Jomby is also imposing on the doubles court, where he teams with freshman Kevin Lai to form the nation's eighth-best tandem. They are 21-10 overall with a 12-7 mark in dual matches, including a 5-4 record in SEC contests.
Following this weekend's matches, all league teams will travel to Oxford, Miss., for the SEC Tournament, which begins on Wed., April 17, with the 12th and 13th seeds will square off. Thursday's second round features all but the top four seeds, which begin play on Friday. The tournament concludes on Sun., April 21.