I’m going to change the format up a little this week and give a few highlights from the weekend along with any quotes I may have been able to get from coaches. I'll then follow it up with a recap for each team so you can either read it all or scroll straight to your team.
The two teams with the toughest schedule this past weekend were Tennessee and Mississippi State with each facing a pair of top 25 teams with Tennessee getting the harder draw of #6 Texas A&M at home and #14 Georgia on the road. Tennessee earned a split of those two matches coming up with a huge 4-3 road win on Sunday at Georgia. Meanwhile Mississippi State faced #19 Vanderbilt and #21 Kentucky at home and swept the weekend to remain unbeaten in the SEC.
I spoke with Tennessee Assistant Coach James McKie Sunday night about the weekend and he had this to say: “To win in Athens is always special, it’s only the 4th time since 1990 the Vol’s have won here. This group is really starting to come together. They are starting to look like a real team on and off the court which is great. As a coach there’s nothing better than seeing your players thrive in such a tough environment. We had a great meeting Saturday night about embracing the atmosphere and accepting no one is on our side.” I also asked about a few of the big individual performances they had this weekend and he had this to say about Adam Walton, Scott Jones and Luca Wiedenmann: “Walts is on fire, he’s playing some really good tennis and I think he’s starting to believe he can beat anyone out there. Jonesy once again so clutch down the stretch. Luca goes in for his first match of the year and clinches is just huge, he has been preparing all year and today he got the call and produced. Very proud of him.”
Mississippi State Head Coach Matt Roberts had this to say about his team this weekend: “One of my favorite things about this weekend is how we came out and played in doubles and how the team rallied and played for each other even when seeing some of the consistent spots in tough matches.” Roberts was very pleased with how the team rallied around each other on Friday when the Bulldogs lost their two points against Vandy at 1 and 6 where they had been previously unbeaten in SEC play. “We’ve only lost one doubles point in the SEC this year which has been a goal and we’re playing a new level of dubs this year” Roberts said.
Wow! What a weekend, what a conference! An ACC team occupied the top spot in the nation for both the men and the women, and on the same weekend, both those teams fall to conference foes.
For the women, it was the top ranked UNC Tarheels hosting the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and getting stung. This felt a little bit like trouble going into the weekend as Ga Tech had been playing extremely well and UNC had been squeaking by with a lot of 4-3 wins lately. That will catch up to you sooner or later in such a competitive conference, and it did on Saturday in Chapel Hill when the 6th ranked Ga Tech squad beat UNC 4-3 (recap and scores can be found here). Perhaps this served as a wake up call for the ‘heels as they returned to action on Sunday and delivered their first shutout of conference play, beating the Virginia Tech Hokies 7-0. A recap and scores can be found here).
This past weekend was a busy one in ACC men's tennis with several results that raised eyebrows around the college tennis world. But the ACC weekend very clearly belonged to one team.
Team of the Weekend: Florida State
It had already been a very good season for the Florida State Seminoles prior to this past weekend but the entire college tennis world was put on notice to "Fear the Spear" on Sunday as the Noles pulled off the stunning 4-3 upset of previously undefeated #1 Wake Forest. Before the match on Sunday, there was chatter that maybe this could be a spot for a big FSU win at home in Tallahassee, especially since Wake Forest did not look all that convincing vs Miami on Friday. But the chances of an upset were made slim when the Deacs pulled out a tight doubles point as Mansouri/Dempster defeated Dougaz/Iradukunda 7-6(3) in the deciding doubles line. The Seminoles would now have to somehow find a way to win 4 singles courts... And FSU was every bit up for the challenge. As Coach Dwayne Hultquist put it "The biggest thing is we didn't give up. We were very competitive the whole way through the match. We could have won the doubles point but lost the tiebreaker. Aziz could have won the 1st set but didn't. We could have won the 1st set at Chase's court but didn't. It was a match where we never gave up. For Guy and Chase to be down a set and come back and win showed a lot of heart and that we will never give up".
FSU had several close moments early in the match where they could have folded and decided that their effort was enough but they never did, they were not going to finish the match without a team victory. The key moment in the match was Guy Iradukunda winning the 2nd set tiebreak over Borna Gojo to spark the comeback. His 2-6 7-6(3) 6-2 proved to be the turning point court for FSU. Lucas Pouillan followed Iradukunda's huge win with a massive 3 set 6-4 5-7 6-3 victory of his own over Skander Mansouri. The upset was confirmed when Chase Wood rallied to beat Julian Zlobinksy 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 on court 6. Wood led the 3rd set 4-1, before Zlobinsky rallied to make it 4-5. Zlobinsky began to cramp in the final game and Wood was able to finish it off to secure the upset win in Tallahassee.
Florida State's huge win over Wake Forest followed what was already a very solid win on Friday over #23 NC State. In the Friday ACC preview I wrote that I anticipated FSU/NC State would go down to the wire with it likely going 4-3 the way of the Seminoles. But FSU did not feel like sweating that much on Friday and took care of the Wolfpack with relative ease in a straightforward 4-0 win. The 4-0 beatdown if NC State followed by the dramatic upset over the #1 team in the nation makes FSU easily the team of the weekend in the ACC and will launch them into the top 10 in the new ITA rankings. 2018 has all the makings of being the best FSU season in a very long time.
Other Positive Weekends
Louisville: The Cardinals had a solid ACC weekend at home with two wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech. In both contests they took the doubles point and ran out with three fairly quick singles victories to secure a win (the GT match was played out while the Clemson match was not). These were two important steps toward the NCAA tournament for Louisville, who will also get more benefit from their win over Virginia as the Cavaliers ranking rises in the coming weeks.
Virginia: Virginia continued their in-form play over the weekend with a comprehensive 6-1 beating of Georgia Tech followed by a 4-2 win over Clemson in which they rallied after dropping a close doubles point. Carl Soderlund has now won 6 in a row at #1 for Virginia, 3 over ranked players and 5 of the 6 wins being in straight sets. His resurgence in form has been key to the Wahoo's recent winning streak.
Miami: The Hurricanes got a much needed positive weekend, playing in two epic matches, which outside of the FSU win, were the two best games of the weekend anywhere in the country. Miami has show flashes of improvement in moments this season but nothing indicated that they would be a major scare for #1 Wake Forest on Friday. But provide a major scare for the Deacs they certainly did. After taking the doubles point, Miami got big singles wins from Bojan Jankulovski at #4 and from Adria Soriano Barrera at #2. After Wake Forest won straight set matches at 1,5 and 6, the match would come down to court 3 where Bar Botzer of Wake was able to outlast Dane Dunlap 7-5 4-6 6-4 and deny Miami a massive upset win.
Despite the heartbreak, there were plenty of positives for Miami to take out of challenging the #1 team in the nation to the absolute wire. But would the positives translate to Sunday's match vs #23 NC State? The answer proved to be a resounding yes. Despite dropping the doubles point to the Wolfpack, the Canes stormed back in singles to upend NC State and collect a big ranked win. The player of the weekend for Miami was Adria Soriano Barrera who beat both #30 Skander Mansouri and #24 Alexis Galarneau in straight sets but the hero of Sunday's win was Bojan Jankulovski who rallied to beat Georgiy Malyshev 1-6 6-2 7-6(5) while fighting off cramps in the final set tiebreak and he added "it was worth it, I'd say" about the cramps setting in as his teammates mobbed him following the clutch win.
Big Ten Conference Men's Tennis is ramping up and there is a Big Time Top Ten match on Sunday in Columbus. One of the biggest college rivalries will be played as the #8 nationally ranked Michigan Wolverines visit the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
A resurgent Michigan program is off to a great start in 2018. The Wolverines stand 11-2 on the season with their only losses coming on the road against #3 North Carolina (4-2) and at home against #11 Florida (4-2). In the Florida match, Michigan barely lost the doubles point with #1s falling 7-6 (6). The Wolverines put up a fight in singles winning a pair of matches in straight sets but Florida was too strong up top sweeping the top three spots.
Since then the Wolverines have beaten #23 Cal, Memphis, a great 2018 Western Michigan team, #17 Notre Dame, # 10 Duke and Central Florida.
Michigan is clearly finding its step as the Big 10 season starts.
A big Friday looms in ACC men's tennis today. 6 important match-ups to break down.
#1 Wake Forest at Miami 3pm (ESPN3)
This is a good chance for college tennis fans to watch the #1 Wake Forest Demon Deacons on ESPN3. If you have not already seen them play, I would recommend tuning in and witnessing the great talent that they possess. Miami is desperate for a big win and have home court advantage, but being competitive against Wake is going to just be a bridge too far for the Hurricanes. Prediction: Wake Forest 7, Miami 0
Virginia at Georgia Tech 3pm
Virginia will be looking to build off of their big win over Notre Dame with another ACC victory over the Yellow Jackets. GT has not had a good season so far and is not showing many signs of life as we get deeper into the ACC season. They will need to come out inspired and take the doubles point if they are going to have any chance to beat in-form Virginia. I do not see it happening however. Prediction: Virginia 6, Georgia Tech 1
Busy weekend in ACC women’s tennis, so let’s dive right in and highlight a few to watch:
After losing its last two conference matches, against tough competition in Georgia Tech and Virginia, the Louisville Cardinals bounced back with a good win against the Hokies of Va Tech. This weekend they hit the road for two big matches that are nearly must wins for them to stay in the top half of the conference. Friday, they take on the Boston College Eagles, whom they handled fairly routinely last season. BC is coming off of a victory, its sole conference win, against Clemson.