The Ole Miss Landshark netmen faced their first big challenge of the season when they traveled to the University of Illinois for the ITA National Team Indoor regionals.
On Friday, they faced the host Illini in front of one of the best indoor crowds in college tennis. Eventually they would split a pair of 4-3 matches in probably the most exciting regional in the country.
Simon Junk and Jan Soren Hain started the Rebels off with a 6-2 win at No. 3 doubles, and Lukas Engelhardt and Nikola Slavic clinched the doubles point in an 8-6 tiebreaker. With these teams so evenly matched, winning the doubles point would prove the difference for the Rebels.
Engelhardt and Finn Reynolds won their matches on courts 5 and 3, meaning the Rebels needed one of Junk and Slavic to finish off their opponents. Both were tied 5-5 in the third and final set before Slavic was broken to bring the match to 3-3. From there, Junk won the tiebreaker 7-4 to take down the host Illini.
The 12th-ranked Illini were the highest ranked team to lose in the regional round.
On Saturday, a mirror image of Friday occurred but this time the Rebels dropped the doubles point to 20th-ranked Michigan.
Ole Miss trailed 3-1 with Tim Sandkaulen (No. 1 singles), Slavic (No. 4), and Reynolds (No. 3) remaining—they would need all three to win. Sandkaulen polished off a 6-3, 6-4 win over Michigan’s top player, Slavic cruised to a 7-6, 6-3 win, and Finn Reynolds split his first two sets. With both teams watching, and all eyes on the number 3 court for the last half hour, Reynolds dropped the tiebreak 7-4, allowing the Wolverines to advance to next month’s National Indoor Finals in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ole Miss plays just two upperclassmen in Sandkaulen and Reynolds. The Rebels should take a lot from the weekend in Big Ten country, as splitting a pair of top 20 matches should build confidence. They’ll host 14th-ranked Oklahoma State indoors on Friday. Suffice to say two top-15 wins in less than a week would go a long way towards momentum for what was during the 1990’s and 2000’s one of the premier collegiate tennis teams in the country.