NCAA Tennis Tourney: Vols Take Out Clemson, Advance to Round of 16

Brandon Fickey reacts after sealing the 4-3 win against Clemson. - Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics

The Vols scored a tense victory over Clemson in the second round of the NCAA Championships on Saturday at Goodfriend Tennis Center. With the victory, the seventh-seeded Volunteers (25-8) advance to the Round of 16 and will play their next opponent, Mississippi State, at the finals site at the University of Illinois campus.

Because it's been quite some time since I've written about UT tennis, I thought it appropriate to give a brief overview of where we were, where we are now, and what happened in between. This information will be presented in FAQ format because this is what KidB does when he writes about tennis. And also because FAQs are awesome.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) KidB, you used to frequently write about UT tennis. Weren't they pretty much amazing?

Indeed they were. On the strength of three players -- JP Smith, Rhyne Williams, and Tennys Sandgren -- who are presently battling in the pro ranks of tennis (and who continue to climb up the rankings), the University of Tennessee Men's Tennis Team was one of the nation's best in both 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the Vols lost in the NCAA Finals to USC. In 2011, the Vols were ousted in the NCAA quarterfinals in a major upset loss to Georgia, but still ended the year ranked #4 in the country. Both squads won the SEC.

2) Why is it that you didn't write much about them last year?

Because I'm a bit of a fair-weather fan, I guess. You see, following the 2011 season, JP Smith graduated, and both Williams and Sandgren turned pro. This left significant holes in the 2012 roster, and the results bore this out. The extremely young 2012 Vols were ousted in the second round of the NCAAs and finished the year ranked #20 in the country. Not a bad showing for some schools, but a significant letdown for a Tennessee program that was establishing itself as nationally elite. And if I wanted to write about mediocrity, I'd contribute to a Clemson blog.

3) But those great players didn't land at UT by accident. I imagine the coach is an excellent recruiter, yes?

You said it man. Head Coach Sam Winterbotham ain't playing around, y'all. He went all the way to Latvia to snag certifiable stud Mikelis Libietis. Mikelis, who is only a sophomore, is the top ranked player in college tennis in both singles and doubles. And the 2013 Vols have slowly but surely crept up the rankings to their current spot at #6 in the land. Let me reiterate: Sam Winterbotham don't play around.

4) Does this year's squad have any chance of winning the NCAAs?

Not a great chance, but stranger things have happened. Here is the draw, so you can follow along. The Vols just took out Clemson -- this was a very exciting match -- in the second round of the NCAAs. Next up for the Vols is Mississippi State. We've already played MSU this season, and we beat them at their place, so I like our chances against them at a neutral site.

Assuming we get by MSU and into the quarterfinals, we'll likely be up against UVA, who is currently ranked #3. If I'm being completely candid, this is a match that we are more likely to lose than to win. But keep in mind that in 2011, UGA was ranked #6, we were ranked #3, and they beat us in the quarterfinals.* They play the matches for a reason.

*And, to this day, I have no idea what happened in that match. I suspect that agents working for UGA may have dropped some quaaludes in our Gatorade. Let's just say we haven't ruled that out as a possibility.

Mikelis Libietis does have an excellent chance of winning the NCAA singles tournament. And him and his doubles partner, Hunter Reese, have an excellent chance of winning the NCAA doubles tournament. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

5) What are the prospects for UT tennis going forward?

Strong to quite strong.

Next year's squad will be even better than this year's squad: (a) our homeboy from Latvia has already gone on record that he'll be returning next year, (b) the remaining of our top four players will be returning, (c) we recently picked up an excellent prospect out of Argentina, and (d) Sean Karl, the former blue-chip recruit who was diagnosed with cancer before he ever arrived on campus is ready to make his return to the team.*

*Seriously, go to that link. It's an awesome story.

And, also, Sam Winterbotham will still be our coach. And Sam Winterbotham simply does not play around.

6) I'm sick of reading. Do you have any videos I could watch?

You got it.

Our tough win against Clemson:


Our first round match against South Carolina State:


Our new homeboy from Latvia:




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