This is now a women’s tennis blog.
After the Racketsharks reached their highest ranking in school history, that’s just the rule.
Since Jerry Montgomery retired in 2001, the women’s tennis team has struggled to get the campus-wide attention the men’s team received. Billy Chadwick had the Rebels playing for national championships on the team side and Devin Britton winning national titles in singles.
The women’s program was a sure bet to make a regional, but hosting like the men always seemed to do was a rarity. But finally, in his 17th season leading the program, Mark Byers has a team that can’t be overshadowed.
Last weekend the Rebels traveled to Madison, Wisc. for the ITA National Women’s Team Indoors and in the process picked up two top-15 wins. They dropped their opener to top-ranked North Carolina 4-2 and gave the Heels their toughest scare this season.
With three matches in three days, the Rebs had to bounce back quick but they did so in dramatic fashion, beating UCLA 4-3 and Texas 4-2.
They return to Oxford for a four game home-stand as the top-ranked team in the SEC. The Rebels have three players ranked in this week’s ITA rankings, with Arianne Hartano at 16, Tea Jandric at 58, and freshman Sabina Machalova at 115. Hartano also teams up with Alexa Bortles (who has some pretty notable relatives) as the 10th-ranked doubles team in country.
Hartono leads the Rebels at number one singles and she already has a win over the top-ranked player in the country under her belt. Natalie Suk and Hartano are the only seniors on the squad. That the Rebels are this solid while playing three underclassmen shows these kind of rankings may become the norm.
With the new format entering college tennis a few seasons ago, the pace of play is a sight to behold. Doubles is played first to six games instead of eight, and they’ve eliminated traditional advantage scoring. Matches are fast and with the setup at home matches, there isn’t a bad seat in the whole place.
Get out there and support a top five program in Oxford, y’all.