Per Nilsson and his ninth-ranked Mississippi State men’s tennis squad begins NCAA Championship play this afternoon when it hosts the Alcorn State Braves in first round action at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
The Bulldogs (19-6) return to the tournament for the second consecutive year and with a little more experience. State looks to make a run for a title.
"I tell you the guys pretty much every day that the goal is not to do well in this tournament. It's to win it,” said Nilisson. “We're going to be disappointed no matter what the round if we lose. The goal is to win the tournament and we can if we get hot and play well then we can."
State enters the weekend as the No. 9 overall seed, its highest ranking since being the No. 4 seed in 1998 and will be looking to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2001.
The last time out the Bulldogs dropded a match to the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC tournament. A disappointing loss for MSU considering they weren’t at full strength.
"The strep throat is gone. Malte was able to get a lot of rest after the tournament which is good,” said Nilsson. “He's healing up well and looking good out there. I expect us to be 100 percent when we start."
State has also improved their doubles play this season thanks in large part to the tandem of Artem Ilyushin and George Coupland.
"They have been have been our steady doubles team,” said Nilsson. “They can beat anybody and were in the NCAA Tournament two years ago so it helps us to stick them up at No. 1 to give us a shot.
“They're just funny looking when you see them. It's a goofy tall guy and a short guy that hits the ball really hard. It's more chemistry thing then anything but if you watch them play you'll see our whole lineup is unconventional doubles."
The Braves earned a spot into the NCAA Tournament by taking their second-straight SWAC Championship with a win over Prairie View. With a 10-9 overall record this season the Braves earned its second-straight bid into the NCAA Championship and sixth overall.
The other half of the bracket will feature the 25th-ranked Baylor Bears verses the 31st-ranked Memphis Tigers who will square off at 11 a.m. this morning for the right to face the winner of the afternoon match.
Five members of State’s squad have earned a top 100 national ranking which marks the first time in school history that five players have been in the rankings on a single date. Of these are 13th-ranked Artem Ilyushin, No. 50 Louis Cant, 55th-ranked George Coupland, No. 74 Malte Stropp and 88th-ranked James Chaudry. In doubles, two tandems remained in the rankings with 25th-ranked Coupland and Ilyushin followed by No. 47 Cant and Stropp.
The MSU verses Alcorn match will begin at 2 p.m. and all tennis fans are encouraged to come out and watch some of the best tennis the NCAA has to offer.