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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."

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Head coach Billy Chadwick will step down at the end of the 2014 season, and associate head coach Toby Hansson was named his successor and will take the reins of the program following the season.

"Coaches in waiting, we've seen that a lot but it doesn't really work in a whole lot of places," athletics director Ross Bjork said. "We had a definitive timeline and a definitive decision, and why not go through the season where we can celebrate Billy but also prep Toby because he's ready and he's capable."

With Chadwick's endorsement, Ole Miss interviewed Hansson and came to a decision to make him the next head coach in August. Continuity was also a key part of the decision, as Hansson enters his eighth year with the program.

"We went through a process where we analyzed Toby," Bjork said. "We interviewed him. We talked about recruiting and what we need to do to continue to build the program. He checked the mark on all of them. It's the right decision for the program."

An integral part of the program's success over the last seven years, Hansson knows the program in and out, and it's a dream job for the Uppsala, Sweden native and former SMU All-American.

"I had gotten some offers from other schools for different jobs," Hansson said. "When this came up, obviously this is a dream job for me. And I'm just really excited about it. I'm glad to be here." 

In Hansson's tenure at Ole Miss, the Rebels have won five SEC West Championships, the regular season SEC Championship and two SEC Tournament Championships. Hansson is regarded as one of the top coaches in the country in developing players and has helped produced the most All-Americans in the country (11) during his tenure at Ole Miss.

"Toby is one of the top young coaches in the country," Chadwick said. "We have been very fortunate, and a lot of our success stems directly to him. For him to take over the program, we're not going to have a bump in the road. The program is in great hands. 

"You never find anyone that does not like Toby. He's extremely likable, and at the same time, he's a good disciplinarian, and he knows tennis. He's one of the best tennis minds in the country."

Hansson has learned a lot from working with Chadwick, particularly making the players feel comfortable and create a family atmosphere with players from across the country and around the world.

"When the players come here, it's a new place," Hansson said. "Making them feel comfortable and developing them is one of the biggest keys to success."

"I'm really happy for Toby," said sophomore Stefan Lindmark, a native of Stockholm, Sweden. "He's a really great coach as well. He really loves the game. He's so into it, but that makes us even more pumped to work hard for him."

By making the announcement before the 2014 season, it's a way to have a parade for Chadwick's legendary career throughout the season, as well as give Hansson an extended period of time to find an assistant coach for when he takes over following the season.

"I got some really big shoes to fill, and I'm going to take it step by step," Hansson said. "We have a big season ahead of us, so right now, that's where my focus is."

"We know that good things are headed for us, not just in more hardware for the university, but great student-athletes and lives changed," Chancellor Dan Jones said. "It's a great day for Ole Miss."


Rebels Touch Down In The Big Apple

Members of the Ole Miss men's tennis team landed in the Big Apple late Tuesday afternoon for the year's second national championship, the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor.  

An elite field of men's and women's tennis players from all divisions and schools across the country have descended on the nation's largest city and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where competition will take place Nov. 7-10.

It's a highlight of the fall for players to earn a spot in the national indoor, because it's played at the site of the US Open.   Ole Miss is well represented in this year's tournament with Nik Scholtz in singles and William Kallberg and Stefan Lindmark in doubles.

Scholtz received an at-large bid as a finalist from the USTA/ITA Southern Regional Championships, while Kallberg and Lindmark earned their trip to New York by winning the Southern Region Doubles title.  Scholtz is making his second consecutive appearance in the field, while the Swedish duo competes for the first time in the prestigious tournament.

REBELS AND THE NATIONAL INDOOR
Ole Miss has a long-standing history at this event going back more than a decade.   The Rebels have had a representative at the National Indoors 11 of the last 12 years.    Scholtz will be the fifth player in the Rebels' history to play in the event more than once.   

Former three-time All-American Erling Tveit qualified for the event three times and reached the quarterfinals in singles in 2006 and teamed with Jonas Berg to win the doubles consolation in 2007.  The following year (2008), Berg teamed up with Bram ten Berge to reach the semifinals.  In 2010, twins Marcel Thiemann and Chris Thiemann finished runner-up at the national indoor.  

Scholtz_Nik_ITA.JPGA REMATCH
Scholtz gets a rematch from the All-American Championships in October, as he faces the third seed, Julian Lenz of Baylor.  This will be the third meeting between the two players.   Scholtz won the first meeting last year when the two played No. 1 singles in the Rebels' 4-2 win over the Bears in the regular season.  Lenz took out Scholtz in the second round of the All-American earlier this fall.  This will be the first meeting between the two indoors.

"Everyone in the field is good.  If you're in this tournament, you're either a top 10 player or you won your region," Scholtz said.  "Success in life always requires a little bit of luck as well, but I definitely have to serve well and return well.  Physically I feel great.  I just have to go out there and leave it all on the court and the results will follow.  If you focus on playing your best and giving it everything you have on every point, the results will come."

LEFTY DUO
Kallberg and Lindmark are the sixth Ole Miss doubles team in the last seven years and fourth in a row to make the field.  The lefty duo, with their 6-1 record, hope they can make a run in New York to gain some momentum for the spring season.    

Thumbnail image for Lindmark_Kallberg_ITA.JPG"It would be really good for the spring season and the team, because then perhaps we could play No. 1 doubles," Lindmark said. "That would be a lot of fun."

The Stockholm, Sweden natives will face Florida State's Benjamin Lock and Marco Nunez, who own a 9-1 record and won the Southeast Regional.

Players will attend a tournament banquet Wednesday night and then play begins Thursday morning at 8 a.m. CT.  Be sure to follow all the action including live scores and a live chat on the ITA's Tournament Central page.   Also follow the Rebels on Twitter, @OleMissMTennis and on Facebook at OleMissMTennis.



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