The ninth-ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis team hopes to ride the momentum created from a Southeastern Conference Western Division title and win over in-state rival Ole Miss all the way to championship Sunday in this week’s SEC Tournament in Starkville.
The Bulldogs handed the Rebels a 4-3 defeat on Saturday in a match that really wasn’t that close.
“We beat them at home, at River Hills, then on their courts, so that was sweet,” said MSU head coach Per Nilsson. “The guys are really fired up. I don’t know how many times we’ve beaten them up there all-time, but it is not easy and I know they haven’t lost a lot.”
The victory secured the third seed in this week’s SEC Tournament hosted by Mississippi State. A fact that Nilsson feels gives the Bulldogs a better path to the championship match.
“We felt like it would be a little easier by winning against Ole Miss,” said Nilsson. “We are going to play the winner between Tennessee and Alabama and they have some matchups that are going to cause some problems for us. If we don’t show up, we can lose to anyone. That’s the thing about our team, if we play well, we can beat anyone, but if we don’t play well, we can lose to some teams that we feel we are better than.”
Mississippi State hosting the event certainly gives the Bulldogs the home court advantage, but having it on Super Bulldog Weekend simply adds to the spectacle.
“When they asked us if we wanted to host the tournament, because we only have the six courts and it's not great for hosting the tournament, but I say no, we have to host it because it is too much of a home court advantage, especially when you have it on a weekend like this coming up,” said Nilsson. “It is key for us to get a big crowd. When it really matters is when it is down to that last match, it just helps you push through. I know what it is, it just make you feel like this is important to everybody and maybe you get that little extra.”
Nilsson, a former player for MSU, remembers his days as a student-athlete fondly, particularly Super Bulldog Weekend.
“When I played we couldn’t wait to finish our matches and get over to the booster baseball trailer and hang out,” he said. “We had a good thing going with that and so this weekend, I’m going to get the guys over there for that.”
He also hopes State fans are making plans to come out to the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre to take in the action because he welcomes the help and support.
“Who doesn’t want to play in front of people?," Nilsson said. "Especially in tennis, you don’t play in front of a lot of people unless you make it to the very top, which is on TV. When you come here and you get big crowds, it is just awesome. They love it.”
State’s first round match takes place at 11 a.m. on Friday morning as it faces the winner of the 11 a.m. Thursday match between Alabama and Tennessee.