Coming off an impressive Southeastern Conference weekend that saw the Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat Florida and South Carolina, Mississippi State cracked the top 10 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings coming in at No. 10 for the first time since being No. 3 to open the 1999 season.
“We haven’t been there in a while and we’ve talked about that a lot,” said MSU men's tennis coach Per Nilsson. “We’re excited and feel like we’ve got two more spots to go for this year’s goal of being a top eight seed, that’s the goal for us.”
State’s wins over the weekend pushed it into the top spot in the SEC Western Division with a chance to win the overall title with a little help down the stretch.
MSU's win over Florida was the program's first since 2001 and its first in Gainesville since 1998. “We felt good going in there," Nilsson said. "I think everybody on our team thought we were going to win. I was more worried about Sunday’s match than I was against Friday’s match.”
The Bulldogs completed the 2011 campaign with a run that including winning the SEC Western Division and a second round finish in the NCAA Championship. This season State has improved dramatically with an impressive 14-4 start to the 2012 spring campaign and a 5-1 record in SEC play.
“Last year, we lost the doubles, 1, 2, and 6 against every top 10 team,” Nilsson said. “It happened every time. There was no secret what we need to improve upon. This year Artem (Ilyushin) at one, he is undefeated this year, he closed that hole. At two, we’ve got some work to do but we are winning more there.
“In doubles, I don’t know what to tell you there. A couple of weeks ago we didn’t feel like we were very good at doubles but we looked at our record and we were beating everybody in doubles. We are definitely better this year.”
This weekend the Bulldog netters host LSU and Arkansas and serves as senior weekend for a trio of MSU players who have contributed to so much of the team’s success this season.
Ilyushin is currently ranked 15th, No. 44 Louis Cant and 46th-ranked George Coupland who have a combined 40-8 dual-match record and 14-4 in SEC play this spring.
Ilyushin is now on a four-match win streak while posting a 6-0 record in SEC play thus far. With a 12-3 mark in dual-match play this spring, Ilyushin has ousted nine ranked foes, six of those coming against opponents ranked in the top 40. Cant began the season on an impressive 11-0 run with an impressive 14-2 slate thus far.
Clinching in the past two matches for the Bulldogs, Cant posted an impressive 4-0 slate in singles and doubles combined last weekend. Coupland is also on a similar pace as he has earned a 14-3 record in dual-match play this spring while clinching in two matches thus far.
Friday’s match will begin at 2 p.m. while Sunday’s senior day begins at 1 p.m.