KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In the final weeks of his college career, Tennessee senior John Collins recorded a career first Friday to help lead the No. 6 Vols to a first-round win in the NCAA Tennis Championships.
Collins dropped only one game on his way to winning his very first NCAA singles match, finishing Tennessee's 4-0 shutout over South Carolina State on an overcast afternoon at Barksdale Stadium.
The Vols (24-8) won the doubles point and then won four of six first sets against the Bulldogs (17-4), the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions.
It's a really good start," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "It's hard to sit for two and a half, three weeks and then get out there and play again. They did great. I'm really impressed with them."
The Volunteers host No. 23 Clemson in second-round action Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. The Tigers outlasted No. 42 Boise State 4-3 Friday in the opening match of the Knoxville Regional. The winner of Saturday's second-round clash will advance to the Round of 16 at the NCAA finals site in Urbana, Ill., next week.
After taking the double point with relative ease, Tennessee jumped out to one-set leads at Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 singles and never looked back.
Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis, the nation's top-ranked singles player and also a member of America's top-ranked doubles team, posted victories in both singles and doubles. The sophomore from Latvia improved to 36-5 in singles this season, 16 more wins than he had all of last year.
He was first off the singles courts for the Vols, earning a 6-0, 6-3 win over Tomas Bizon at the top of the lineup. Junior Jarryd Chaplin recorded his 20th win of the season by beating Peteris Vinogradovs 6-1, 6-2.
With the Vols up 3-0, Collins and sophomore Hunter Reese were both closing in on the finish line, but Collins got there first. He clinched the match for the Vols with a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Jiri Stiburek on court No. 5.
For Collins, Friday marked his first NCAA singles victory in a lineup. His previous NCAA experience had come as a sophomore at Maryland. After transferring to UT for his senior season, Collins is making sure his career ends on a high note.
"I'm really pleased with John getting the clinch -- it was awesome," Winterbotham said. "Being at home, being a senior, having that is a special moment."
Now Tennessee turns its attention to Clemson, a team that overcame a slow start in singles to down Boise State in a 4-3 match.
"Clemson is a very well coached team from what I understand," Chaplin said. "They have a lot of young talent. They are in a similar kind of position as us in terms of having a young team and doing extremely well this year as well.
"They're top 25 and it's going to be a tough match. One to six and then they're a pretty well-equipped doubles team. I think if we go in and fight the way we have for the most part of the season, I think we can come away, hoping to get a little further."
Notes: Friday notably marked the return of sophomore Brandon Fickey to the lineup after coming back from a shoulder injury. He played No. 2 doubles and No. 3 singles and did not complete either match ... Tennessee looks to advance to the round of 16 for the fifth time in Winterbotham's seven years at UT ... Tennessee is 18-1 at home in NCAA opening-round matches, including 9-0 in the Winterbotham era ... Edward Jones is now 9-1 in NCAA doubles matches.
#6 Tennessee 4, South Carolina State 0
1. #1 Mikelis Libietis, UT, def. Tomas Bizon, SCSU, 6-0, 6-3
2. #34 Hunter Reese, UT vs. Anton Protsenko, SCSU, 6-1, 5-4
3. Brandon Fickey, UT, vs. Artemy Nikitin, SCSU, 4-6, 0-4
4. Jarryd Chaplin, UT, def. Peteris Vinogradovs, SCSU, 6-1, 6-2
5. John Collins, UT, def. Jiri Stiburek, SCSU, 6-1, 6-0
6. Edward Jones, UT, vs. Marius Dragoi, SCSU, 4-6, 1-4
1. #1 Libietis/Reese, UT def. Nikitin/Protsenko, SCSU, 8-2
2. Chaplin/Fickey, UT, vs. Dragoi/Vinogradovs, SCSU, 6-6 unf.
3. #34 Collins/Jones, UT, def. Bizon/Stiburek, SCSU, 8-2
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (1,4,5).