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Chadwick: 'We Control Our Destiny'

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One spot in the ITA national rankings can make all the difference. 

Last season, San Diego, ranked No. 44 in the country, earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, while crosstown rival, San Diego State, ranked No. 45, was the highest ranked team left out of the 64-team field.

Ranked No. 53 in the country and likely needing a win over No. 10 Texas A&M to keep their postseason chances alive, Ole Miss played its most complete match of the season to knock off the Aggies 4-3 in legendary head coach Billy Chadwick's last SEC home match.

After the win, as well as a doubleheader sweep of Alcorn State, the Rebels moved up 10 spots to No. 43 in the country, ahead of Thursday's SEC Tournament match against No. 18 Tennessee in Nashville. In the first meeting in Knoxville, Ole Miss won 4-1 behind wins at Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 singles.

"If they were making the choice today, we might get in; we might not," Chadwick said. "We're ranked No. 43 in the country and traditionally they take 43 or 44 teams, in addition to the automatic bids that are ranked lower. We're walking the tightrope on it. We need to help ourselves and beat Tennessee."

Coaches often times talk about sense of urgency, such as men's basketball head coach Andy Kennedy referring to the team's 2013 NCAA Tournament run. For Chadwick, it's no different, led by the team's lone senior in Johan Backstrom and two-time All-American Nik Scholtz.

"You could see that when we played Texas A&M," Chadwick said. "They really played with a sense of urgency. We know that right now we control our destiny, and if we want to make the NCAA's, we take care of Tennessee."

"We believe we can do it," Scholtz said. "Making the tournament is another thing that's motivating us at this stage in the year. It's good to know that you're definitely in (the discussion), but the fact that we don't know if we're in the tournament is great motivation."

'New Start' For Rebel Netters


The Ole Miss men's tennis team kicks off Southeastern Conference play, as they host No. 31 Auburn and No. 37 Alabama this weekend at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center. The Rebels enter the weekend with a 2-3 record, and they see the start of league play as the beginning of a new season.

"It's very exciting," said senior Johan Backstrom. "It's going to be like a new start for us. This feels like the beginning of the season. We feel like if we play up to our potential with the team that we have now, we can cause some damage in the SEC this year."

The Southeastern Conference race appears wide open, with six teams ranked in the top 25 but no teams ranked in the top 10 in this week's ITA National Team rankings. 

The defending champion and preseason favorite, Georgia, is 3-5 overall and ranked No. 35, with losses to No. 22 Florida and No. 16 Mississippi State at the ITA National Team Indoor. The highest ranked team, No. 11 Tennessee, is 10-3 overall, with a loss to No. 13 Texas A&M. Ole Miss was picked sixth in the coaches' preseason poll.

"The SEC is wide open," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "It's already been proven that any team can beat any other team in the SEC, so it's going to be a tough weekend because Alabama and Auburn both have quality programs."

"It's hard to predict, and there are going to be a lot of close matches," Backstrom added. "With Ricardo (Jorge) being eligible, we have a deep team. If we play to our potential, we should have a really good chance of winning championships this year."

Jorge, a freshman from Tavira, Portugal, made his debut last weekend in Waco, Texas, where the Rebels went 1-1 with a 4-0 win over SMU and a 4-0 loss to No. 7 Baylor. Jorge won at No. 5 singles to clinch the win against SMU and then paired with junior Nik Scholtz at No. 2 doubles for a win against Baylor.

"He has good returns," Chadwick said. "He's a good natural doubles player because he's good at the net. In singles, he relies on his forehand. He likes to dictate the play with it. He's very fast with his feet. He has a really good overall game. From a coaching standpoint, he is an easy young man to work with and listens well. He is an extremely hard worker. He's going to be a good one."

A year ago, Ole Miss defeated Auburn and Alabama in the regular season, both by a score of 4-3, but in the SEC Tournament, 12-seed Alabama upset 5-seed Ole Miss, 4-3.

"We need to get off to a good start, and these are two teams that we match up well with, and we're playing at home, so we need to take advantage of that," Chadwick said. "They're very similar to last year's teams. It's a lot of the same faces. When you look at the results this fall, both of them have improved since last year."

Ole Miss begins play this weekend against Auburn Friday at 2 p.m., and then concludes against Alabama Sunday at 1 p.m.

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The Ole Miss men's tennis team, ranked No. 10 in the nation, lost a pair of hard-fought matches in the ITA-Kick-Off Weekend, first to No. 26 Michigan (4-3) on Saturday and then to No. 25 Clemson (4-2) on Sunday.

"The first thing that I saw was Nik Scholtz played really well, and he's really proving himself to be one of the best players in the country. The other person if I single out what I really liked is Johan Backstrom who played great," head coach Billy Chadwick said of the weekend. He played absolutely great."

Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in the nation, won both of his singles matches at No. 1 singles in straight sets. It was vintage Scholtz, a two-time All-American, who battled elbow injuries late last season.

The story of the weekend, however, was the stellar play of Johan Backstrom, the team's lone senior. He won both of his singles matches, including a dominant 6-0, 6-4 win over Clemson's Austin Ansari on Sunday. 

Backstrom entered the weekend with a 32-27 career record in dual singles matches, having played mostly No. 5 and No. 6 singles in his first three seasons for the Rebels.

And after being limited to just two matches, both in doubles, during the fall season, the Uppsala, Sweden native is playing perhaps the best tennis of his career.

"I played very well in both matches this weekend, especially today in my first set," Backstrom said. "It was really good. I was doing what we have been working on in practice with the coaches, so that's a great feeling to be able to show that improvement in a match. It was good for me."

Ole Miss has a relatively young team, especially at the bottom of the lineup in singles and doubles, including redshirt freshman Vinod Gowda at No. 5 singles and Zach Wilder at No. 6 singles, as well as sophomore Joe Rogers who teamed with Wilder at No. 3 doubles. 

This weekend marked the first career dual matches for both Gowda and Rogers, while it was the third and fourth career dual singles matches for Wilder.

"They're fighting very hard," Backstrom said. "It's tough to come in there. Vinod had a great effort today coming back. Yesterday, it was first dual match. He showed today that he learned from that and he was able to come back today. Zach just has to keep on working, and I'm 100 percent sure he will play better and better through the season and bring us some wins in the future."

Backstrom has embraced his role as one of the older, more experienced players, as he looks to continue his steady play and help the underclassmen on the team.

"You have to act more like a leader and lead by example in everything you do, on and off the court," he said. "You help the younger guys to play at their potential. It's a different feeling when you're out there, but I like it."


A Closer Look: ITA Kick-Off

Three things from Ole Miss men's tennis head coach Billy Chadwick, previewing the ITA Kick-Off this weekend at the Gillom Sports Center Saturday and Sunday:

1. Four Top 26 Teams
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The No. 10 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis opened the 2014 season at the MLK Invitational this past weekend on the campus of Georgia Tech with singles and doubles matches against Georgia Tech, No. 3 Georgia and No. 21 Memphis. Among the highlights included a pair of singles wins each for junior Nik Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in the nation, and sophomore Stefan Lindmark.

"Our objective was to prepare for this weekend coming up," head coach Billy Chadwick said. "The format of the tournament that we went to guaranteed three singles and three doubles matches. It was against great competition, so we feel like we accomplished what we wanted to. We're better prepared for this weekend."

Ole Miss now turns its attention to the ITA Kick-Off this weekend, where it hosts No. 22 Illinois, No. 25 Clemson and No. 26 Michigan at the Gillom Sports Center. The winner of the two-day regional advances to the National Team Indoor Feb. 14-17 in Houston, Texas.

"You're looking at four teams in this regional that are very equal, all very strong from top to bottom, our team included," Chadwick said. "There is no one that wouldn't say this is the strongest regional in the country. We have to take advantage of playing here at home and we need to make that the difference in putting us over the hump. If we get a good crowd out there, it can be the difference in us advancing to the Final 16."

"It's a huge opportunity and it's a very important weekend for our team," senior Johan Backstrom said. "All three teams coming here are really good teams. If we get through these two matches, it's a key for the rest of the season. Going to the National Indoor, where you are guaranteed three matches against the top teams in the country, can be a huge importance the rest of the season as far as rankings."

2. Michigan Rematch

The Rebels will face No. 26 Michigan Saturday at 10 a.m. in the first round, with No. 22 Illinois against No. 23 Clemson in the other first-round match. The winners will meet Sunday.

The match with Michigan marks a rematch from the 2012 NCAA second round. Ole Miss defeated Michigan 4-2 to advance to the Sweet 16, the program's 16th Sweet 16 appearance. Backstrom clinched the match with a 6-3 win in the third set at No. 5 singles.

"We saw them two years ago when the NCAA sent them down here when we were hosting the regionals," Chadwick said of Michigan. "We had a tough, tough battle with them. They're always well prepared. The coach for them, Bruce Berque, used to be the assistant at Florida for years, so we're familiar with him and the job that he did there. And he has made Michigan a top-25 program, year in and year out."

"Hopefully we can play as well as we did in that match and get through them to face either Illinois or Clemson," Backstrom added.

3. New Doubles Pairing

The doubles point was a key to success for Ole Miss last season, with the Rebels posting a 13-2 record when winning the doubles point, compared to 3-7 when losing the doubles point. Lindmark and junior William Kallberg, ranked No. 51 in the nation, solidified themselves as a team winning the ITA Southern Regional in the fall and participating in the ITA National Indoor.

Last season, Scholtz teamed with Jonas Lutjen and ended the season ranked No. 4 in the nation and posted a 20-7 overall record, including 15-3 at No. 1 doubles. With Lutjen graduated, Scholtz now teams with Backstrom, and they posted a 6-4 win at No. 1 doubles against the nation's No. 12 team from Georgia this past weekend.

"I was very impressed with Johan's doubles last year, so he was the logical one to step in and play with Nik," Chadwick said. "Johan has really good returns and he has a really big serve. Those two things are essential when you're playing against the top doubles teams in the country. We have the makings of a good team with Johan and Nik."

"It's always fun playing with such a great player," Backstrom said. "We got better and better each match, and hopefully we can keep on getting to know each other as doubles partners, improve throughout the season and hopefully do some great things."


Rebel Preview: MLK Invitational

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Three things from Ole Miss men's tennis head coach Billy Chadwick, previewing the 2014 season and the Rebels' first tournament, the MLK Invitational at Georgia Tech, which starts Saturday:

1. 'He Can Be The Best Player In The Country'

As Chadwick enters his last season as head coach before retiring after the season, he told the team he wants to make this their best spring, and it all starts with two-time All-American Nik Scholtz, who is ranked No. 15 in the nation.

"Nik Scholtz, if he gets to playing like he can play, he can be the best player in the country," Chadwick said. "He can win the NCAA's. He's one of those who are up there. He will be playing at the top spot for us."

The junior from Caledon, South Africa, ended the 2013 season ranked No. 17 in the nation in singles and No. 4 doubles. He posted a 20-9 overall record, 12-6 at No. 1 singles, and teamed with now-graduated Jonas Lutjen for a 20-7 overall record in doubles, despite battling an elbow late in the season.

"He has to be healthy," Chadwick said of Scholtz. "There are different things that we have been working on that are necessary for him, if he's going to make the transition from college to pro, and he has a good pro future ahead of him. If we get those things starting to fall into place, which they will, watch out for him. He's one the nation's best.

2. The Supporting Cast

Coming off a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, Ole Miss enters the 2014 season ranked No. 11 in the nation, which is fourth among Southeastern Conference teams. The Rebels return four of their top six players, led by Scholtz, and then there's the supporting cast.

"When I look at the heart of the lineup, it's three Swedes," Chadwick said. "It's William Kallberg, Johan Backstrom and Stefan Lindmark. Of that group, Backstrom is a senior, and he's looking to make his senior year his best year yet. We feel like that the heart of our lineup, we're looking good, and we have Vinod (Gowda) to throw in the mix also. And then to anchor things, we have Zach Wilder."

Kallberg and Lindmark are ranked No. 104 and No. 108, respectively, and combine for the nation's No. 51 doubles team. Of the three Swedes, Chadwick looks for Kallberg into the No. 2 singles spot vacated by Lutjen

"William Kallberg had an outstanding fall," Chadwick said. "If you look at his record last year, he played No. 3 and No. 4 singles, and he was the most competitive of any position we had. He played really well last year and stepped up. The match that I remember the most with him is when he clinched the match for us against Georgia. He has a real weapon with his left hand, especially with his forehand. We not only look for him to play No. 2 singles, but to play No. 2 singles and win.

3. Looking Ahead To The ITA Kickoff Weekend

The last season of the Billy Chadwick era begins this weekend at the Georgia Tech Invitational (Jan. 18-20), where Ole Miss will play singles and doubles matches against players from No. 3 Georgia, No. 21 Memphis and Georgia Tech. 

It's a tune-up for the ITA Kickoff Weekend Jan. 25-26, where Ole Miss will begin play against No. 26 Michigan, followed by a match against either No. 22 Illinois or No. 23 Clemson. The Rebels' first match is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. at the Gillom Sports Center hours before the Ole Miss men's basketball teams hosts intrastate rival Mississippi State on campus.

"Se scheduled it to where we are going to play in the morning because basketball plays at 3 o'clock in the afternoon against Mississippi State, so we hope to make it a sports weekend for the Ole Miss fans," Chadwick said. 

"It's outstanding competition in the regional that we're hosting. You have four big names in there and all of them are really good tennis programs with great history. From the first hit, it's going to be competitive. It's really going to show where we are."

Hero In The Classroom

Thumbnail image for Backstrom_Hero.JPGEach home football game Ole Miss recognizes a student-athlete who has excelled both on the field or court and in the classroom as the "Hero in the Classroom." 

Rebel men's tennis senior Johan Backstrom was honored at last Saturday's home opener against Southeast Missouri.  He was  featured in the game program and on the video board during the third quarter of the game.

At six-foot-five, Backstrom has played a pivotal role on the hard courts for the Rebels while also excelling in the classroom.  He is the exemplary student-athlete.

Backstrom helped lead Ole Miss to a top-10 final national ranking, their 10th SEC West title, and the team's 20th consecutive NCAA appearance in 2013.  With a 20-14 record in doubles, he ended the year ranked No. 58 in the nation with teammate Stefan Lindmark.   Backstrom also posted 24 wins in singles including clinching wins over both No. 6 Tennessee and No. 12 Baylor. 

Aside from the tennis courts, Backstrom has a current 3.89 GPA in Banking and Finance.  In 2013 he earned ITA Scholar-Athlete, Capital One Academic All-District, and SEC Academic Honor Roll honors.  He has been named to the Chancellor's Honor Roll every semester at Ole Miss.

Backstrom has helped the Rebels earn the Chancellor's Cup (given to team with the highest cumulative GPA) and the ITA All-Academic Team Award (requires a minimum GPA of 3.2) every year he's been here.

Stay tuned for more posts on forthcoming student-athletes recognized as the "Hero in the Classroom."

Follow me on Twitter: @krebel

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