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    Today In SEC Tennis: April 14

    Aggie Women are SEC Champions

    OXFORD, Miss. – The third-ranked Texas A&M women’s tennis team captured the school’s first regular season Southeastern Conference championship in any sport with a 4-0 victory over No. 43 Ole Miss this afternoon at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center.

    “It is a tremendous honor for our players, Coach (Mark) Weaver and me to represent Texas A&M University,” Aggie head coach Howard Joffe said after the victory. “The University does so much for all of us, and winning the SEC in our inaugural season feels so good in so far as our group being able to give back to our school.”

    It was the fifth consecutive win for the Aggies, who improve to 20-2, finish 12-1 in the SEC, and win their first regular season conference championship since winning the Big 12 Conference regular season title in 2003.

    Ole Miss, which entered the match also riding a four-match win streak, falls to 14-12, 5-8.

    A&M quickly took command in doubles as the only lead Ole Miss would manage was at the No. 3 line where the Rebels held serve to open the match. The lead would be short lived as A&M’s Ines Deheza and Paula Deheza held their serve and then broke Julia Jones and Allie Robbins to go up, 2-1. It was all A&M after that.

    A&M posted its first win at the No. 2 line, where 56th-ranked Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar and Wen Sun won four consecutive games to close out an 8-2 victory over 38th-ranked Marija Milutinovic and Caroline Rohde-Moe. It was the Aggie pair’s seventh win in the last eight outings.

    The Deheza twins also pulled away to get an 8-4 victory at the No. 3 line, clinching the point for the Aggies.

    A&M’s Stefania Hristov and Cristina Stancu, ranked No. 15 in the nation in doubles, held a 7-5 lead over Ole Miss’ Erin Stephens and Iris Verboven at the No. 1 line when the match was stopped.

    The Aggies, who entered the match 13-0 when winning the doubles point, got off to a slow start in singles but managed to get on track to win the first set on five of six courts.

    “Our ladies' performance in the singles today mimicked the determination they have shown all year,” Joffe said. “Down in at least half the matches, they were able to stay focused and turn things around."

    Hristov dropped her first two games against Verboven at the No. 6 line and then won 10 consecutive games en route to a 6-2, 6-2 victory to put the Aggies ahead, 2-0.

    Sun, the only A&M player to lead start to finish in singles, put the Aggies up with a win over Milutinovic at the No. 5 line. Sun opened the match by winning her first three games and went on to win, 6-2, 6-3.

    Sanchez-Quintanar, ranked fourth in the nation in singles, followed Hristov’s storyline, dropping her first two games to 39th-ranked Rohde-Moe at the No. 1 line before taking command by winning the next 10 games. Sanchez-Quintanar went on to clinch A&M’s winning point with a 6-2, 6-3, victory. It was the fourth consecutive win for the All-American, who finishes 9-3 at the No. 1 line in SEC play and improves to 22-4 against ranked opponents and 35-6 overall.

    With the match decided, the other three matches were stopped. At the No. 2 court, A&M’s 52nd-ranked Nazari Urbina had come back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead against Jones. Jones won the next game to force a tiebreaker, which she won, 7-1. It would be the only first-set victory for the Rebels.

    Urbina held a 2-1 lead in the second set when play was stopped and finishes 9-1 in SEC matches to tie for the team lead in conference wins.

    Stancu, ranked 65th, had fallen behind, 4-2, to 93rd-ranked Mai El Kamash at No. 3 but rallied to win the first set, 7-5. Stancu went on to win the first four games of the second set and was leading, 4-2, when the match was halted.

    Ines Deheza posted A&M’s largest comeback in the first set. The freshman, who entered the match 9-0 in SEC play and riding an 11-match overall winning streak, fell behind, 5-1, to Stephens at No. 4 before winning six consecutive games to take the set, 7-5. Stephens had opened a 5-2 lead in the second set when play was suspended.

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    Gamecocks Claw Out 4-3 Win Over No. 8 Kentucky

    COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina senior Harry Menzies celebrated his Senior Day in the best way possible, rallying to win his third set and deliver a 4-3 win over No. 8 Kentucky for the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks Sunday afternoon at Carolina Tennis Center. The Wildcats had closed within a point of winning the team match, but Thiago Pinheiro and Kyle Koch won their matches to set up Menzies’ heroics in the final regular-season match of his career. It is South Carolina’s first top-10 victory since April 2005, and the Gamecocks’ school-record tying seventh SEC win of the season.

    “[These players] have proven again and again this season that they are strong individuals,” South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi said. “These guys are going to be successful in whatever they do because their character is unmatched. That is why we are getting these wins. The guys do the right things in the right moments. They’re smart and digest the game plans. And, today couldn’t be more storybook [for Harry Menzies]. I was glad to see Thiago [Pinheiro] get his win and then that [Kyle] Koch could get that second set to set things up for Harry. With the way Harry’s career has gone, he needed that, and it was great to see him come through in his big moment.”

    The match was hotly contested from the outset with the Gamecocks coming off a win over No. 13 Vanderbilt Friday while the Wildcats were trying to stop a two-match losing streak. South Carolina’s No. 2 doubles team of Koch and Menzies, ranked 84th in the nation, were the first to finish, with an 8-5 win over Grant Roberts and Anthony Rossi. The Wildcats leveled things with a late break in the No. 1 match, just as Pinheiro and Andrew Adams went into a tiebreak with Ryuji Hirooka and Beck Pennington. Kentucky scored the first point, but the Gamecocks won the next six points to set up match point. The Wildcats were not ready to quit, though, holding off three match points before succumbing 9-8 (4).

    Singles went Kentucky’s way early with only Menzies and Pinheiro able to get early leads in their first sets. Adams, in at No. 102 nationally this week, appeared to join them with a break to go up 3-1, but No. 21 Tom Jomby took it right back in the next game. Koch was down a break early, but was fighting back, while Tsvetan Mihov and Chip Cox were both trailing in their Nos. 1 and 5 matches, respectively.

    While Koch broke to get back on serve a 3-4, Menzies briefly stumbled as Pennington got one back one of his two breaks in the No. 6 match. The Gamecocks’ lone senior finished off the freshman with a break to win the first set 6-3, but moments later the Wildcats went up a set on Courts 1, 2 and 5. Pinheiro withstood pressure form Charles Minc on Court 3 to win his first set 6-4, which just left Koch’s in the balance. The sophomore was in a tiebreak with Roberts, which he dominated with patience and well-timed power, closing it out 7-6 (1) to keep the teams even with three first sets each.

    By that time, Menzies was up a break in his second set, as was Adams, but both saw their opponents fight their way back in. Pennington finished off his rally with a6-3 win over Menzies to force a third set. Just after No. 19 Rossi posted a 6-2, 6-2 win over Mihov, Adams had two break points on Jomby to take a 5-4 lead, but the Frenchman battled out of the jam then went ahead by breaking Adams in the next game.  Lai and Jomby finished in rapid succession to make it a 3-1 Kentucky lead as Cox dropped his 6-3, 6-4 decision and Adams fell 6-4, 6-4 within minutes of each other.

    Those wins came just after Pinheiro had surged ahead of Minc with a break at 4-3. With Koch and Roberts on serve at 4-3, Menzies answered his teammates’ setbacks with a break for a 3-2 lead. The senior saw Pennington fight off two break points, but stayed on top and set up a third, which he won with an overhead. Back on Court 3, Minc was serving to stay in the match, but Pinheiro was relentless. The Gamecocks’ passionate Brazilian won the first three points of the game, and was undeterred when Minc saved two of them before finally yielding to Pinheiro 6-4, 6-3.

    Trailing 3-2, the Gamecocks needed both of the final matches on court, and both were going down to the bitter end. After Koch saw Roberts rally back from Love-40 down to stay on serve at 5-5 just as Pennington held off a pair of break points to keep pace with Menzies. The game was interrupted by conversation with the referees about the rowdiness of the fans hovering over the two crucial matches, and Pennington was able to recover to hold his serve but was still down a break at 4-3.

    Koch saw his first match point erased by an unlucky bounce off the net on Roberts’ serve, and the two went into another tiebreak. Pennington rode the momentum of his emotional serve to break Menzies and level the match at 4-4 just after Koch and Roberts began battling out their tiebreak. Great hands at the net set up an easy putaway for Koch to take at 5-4 lead, and Roberts’ miscue on the next point set up match point with Menzies starting to serve at 5-5 on the next court.

    Roberts pushed past two more match points for Koch and earned a set point of his own with solid net work, but Menzies was now in control on Court 6. The senior played a great defensive point and forced Pennington into a misfire to set up two break points On the second, Menzies delivered a passing shot to take a 6-5 lead.

    The advance of his doubles partner energized Koch, who played a patient point, working Grant around the court until he saw his opening to take the net and put away the point to pull even at 8-8. Another long rally saw Grant dump shot into the net for Koch’s fourth match point. Another long forehand from Pennington gave Koch the hard-fought 7-6 (8) win.

    Menzies was serving for the match and up 30-15 when Koch wrapped things up and attention focused squarely on Court 6. Two pressure-filled points later, Menzies leapt into the air as the crowd and team erupted around him in celebration of his 7-5 victory.

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    SENIORS LEAD VOLS IN SEASON FINALE OVER AUBURN

    KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee seniors hope Sunday was not their last match at Barksdale Stadium, but if it was, they made sure to finish up their home careers in a winning way.

    Seniors Edward Jones, Taylor Patrick and John Collins led the charge in the Vols' 4-0 shutout victory over No. 18 Auburn to close out the regular season in front of the largest crowd of the season.

    The 10th-ranked Vols (21-7, 8-4 SEC) will be the No. 2 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Oxford, Miss. With a strong finish down the stretch, the Vols have also put themselves in good standing to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships in May.

    "I feel like the team is peaking at the right time heading into the tournament," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterobotham said. "This is where the fun starts."

    The Vols struggled at the start of doubles in Friday's 4-1 win over Alabama, but that was hardly the case against Auburn (13-9, 5-7). Tennessee got up on all three courts midway through the sets and started pulling away.

    Patrick and Jarryd Chaplin won their second match together this weekend, beating Lukas Ollert and Joseph Van Dooren 8-3 on court 3. Collins and Jones rebounded from a shutout loss on Friday to defeat Lucas Lopasso and Dennis Lengsfeld to clinch the doubles point.

    With the lead in hand, the Vols experienced no letdown after the seniors were honored during the break. Tennessee jumped out to take five of six first sets.

    "We took care of doubles and then brought that same energy in singles," Patrick said. "We jumped on them and took five first sets. We didn't let that break for Senior Day hurt us. We kept the energy and just kind of rolled them."

    Patrick was the first off court for Tennessee. He won his third SEC match since returning to the singles lineup last month, beating Joseph Van Dooren 6-4, 7-5 on court 6.

    Sophomore Mikelis Libietis seemed destined to go three sets but went ahead at finished his match in two. The Vols' No. 1 wrapped up a stellar SEC season by rallying from down 5-1 in the second set to beat 28th-ranked Andreas Mies 6-4, 7-6 (0).

    Libietis finished the regular season 8-1 in singles and 10-1 in doubles during conference play, all at the No. 1 position. His win over Mies put the Vols ahead 3-0.

    Jones and Chaplin both held match points on adjoining courts, but Jones had the honor of clinching the match. He broke Lopasso's serve to seal the Vols' shutout win, earning a 7-5, 6-4 victory on court 5. It was Jones' second singles victory over the weekend.

    Between singles and doubles, the seniors helped the Vols finish strong in the final weekend of the season. Jones went 2-0 in singles, Collins was 1-0 and Patrick was 1-1. Back in the doubles lineup this week, Patrick also went 2-0 in doubles with Chaplin.

    "They all care," Winterbotham said. "There's no egos. In our sport, you deal with egos ... These three guys are all about the team."

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    Lady Bulldog Tennis Ousts No. 51 Missouri, 4-2; Rematch In SEC Opener

    STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State Lady Bulldog tennis (8-13, 2-11 SEC), posted a hard-fought 4-2 victory against the No. 51 ranked Lady Tigers of Missouri (9-12, 2-11 SEC) in the teams' final regular season match Sunday afternoon at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.

    Ironically, the two teams will rematch in their next outing, squaring off in the opener of the 2013 SEC Women's Tennis Championship this Wednesday, April 17, at 10 a.m. Mississippi State is hosting the 2013 SEC event April 17-21 at the Pitts Tennis Centre as part of Super Bulldog Weekend. A complete bracket and information on the tournament can be found at www.HailState.com/SECtennis.

    Due to inclement weather Sunday, the day’s competition began with singles play. Court 4 was the first to finish, as Elisha Gabb of the Lady Tigers
    defeated Lady Bulldog Petra Ferancova 6-2, 6-2 for an early 1-0 Missouri lead.

    Lady Bulldog veteran Alexandra Perper then evened the overall score at 1-1 with an impressive three-set triumph over Rachel Stuhlmann at the No. 2 position. After taking the first set, Perper answered Stuhlmann’s second-set response to claim the match convincingly in the third, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.

    MSU true freshman Sarai Flores extended the Maroon and White lead to 2-1 with a closely contested 7-5, 7-5 victory against Missouri’s Madison Rhyner on court 6. Flores rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the second set to win four-straight games in a pivotal win for the Lady Bulldogs.Missouri then knotted things again as Maria Christensen downed MSU’s Naomi Tran 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in a three-set war at the No. 3 spot, locking the score at 2-2.

    A top spot upset for Lady Bulldog Georgiana Patrasc edged MSU to a 3-2 lead. Patrasc, who was down 4-0 in the first set, roared back to take that set and ultimately upset No. 86 ranked Cierra Gaytan-Leach of Missouri 7-5, 7-5.

    The match then came down to the remaining singles action on court 5, where Lady Bulldog Roseline Dion faced Missouri’s Alex Clark. Dion took the first set in a dominant 6-2 decision, but was forced into a tiebreaker in the second set after holding a big lead. Dion held strong, however, to take the tiebreaker and notching a 6-2, 7-6(6) triumph to clinch the MSU team victory.

    Because the match was clinched in singles competition, doubles play was not contested.

    Head coach Daryl Greenan was pleased by his team’s performance.

    “We fought extremely hard today and it was a great win over a very good Missouri team,” said Greenan. “Perper and Patrasc were tough as nails and Sarai did a tremendous job playing within herself. Rosie had a chance to end the match much sooner, but she really dug deep to win the tiebreaker to clinch. It was a very solid effort on every court for us today, and it is a good feeling when that happens. We will face Missouri against in three days right here in the SEC Tournament, and it is going to take a huge effort to come back and beat them again.”