Sophomore Nik Scholtz and senior Jonas Lutjen are the leaders for the No. 6 Ole Miss men’s tennis team, and head coach Billy Chadwick will rely heavily on the two All-Americans to make a run at winning the SEC Tournament Championship this weekend.
For No. 6 Ole Miss, four wins in four days to win the SEC Tournament Championship starts at the top with its two All-Americans, sophomore Nik Scholtz and senior Jonas Lutjen.
Both players are ranked in the top 16 in singles and combine for the nation’s fifth-ranked doubles team for the No. 5-seed Rebels.
“I think that you have to start at the top with our two All-Americans,” head coach Billy Chadwick said.
“They both have established themselves as two of the best players in the nation, and many days we’re riding their coattails.”
Chadwick said that the team’s rank is based on the fact that they have had different players stepping up, and that it’s been a real team effort this spring.
Scholtz, ranked No. 15 in singles, is 11-5 at No. 1 singles, but he missed the match against Florida, then retired in the match against South Carolina with an elbow injury.
This past weekend, he played doubles for the first time in more than two weeks and played into the second set of singles when play was suspended, as Texas A&M clinched a 4-1 win.
“Nik has been having some elbow issues, and it’s slowed him down for really the last three weeks, but he’s getting better every day,” Chadwick said.
“He was much, much stronger in the match against Texas A&M. We are feeling like he’s going to be close to 100 percent come Thursday.”
Scholtz said the elbow problem started the morning after the weekend Ole Miss played Arkansas and LSU and got progressively worse. He said he hasn’t practiced much the last three weeks but he’s feeling much better going into the SEC Tournament, where he earned All-Tournament honors last season.
“Two weeks ago, if someone had told me I was feeling as good as I feel now, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Scholtz said.
“I got an injection in my elbow. It was probably one of the most painful things I ever experienced, but it was definitely worth it.”
He said that although he still felt some pain in the match Sunday, it was almost 100 percent better.
“It’s not completely there, but I’m definitely ready to play and give it my best effort,” he said. “Hopefully, it will hold up.”
Lutjen rides seven-match winning streak into SEC Tournament
Lutjen, ranked No. 16 in singles and 12-5 at No. 2 singles, lost his first two SEC matches to Alabama and Auburn but has won seven straight SEC matches and eight of his last 10, including the clincher in a 4-2 comeback win at Mississippi State.
“I just try to play and practice every day like I did in the beginning of the year,” Lutjen said.
“Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t play well. I just worked on my game, worked on what I didn’t do too well at the beginning of the season; I’m doing much better now.”
Lutjen won his individual matches in wins against No. 1-seed Georgia and No. 2-seed Tennessee, as Ole Miss won both matches, and those results give Lutjen and his teammates confidence.
“We can beat any team in the conference,” Lutjen said. “If you look at our conference really close, there is not a big difference between all those teams. First of all, we have to take care of the first match against (No. 13-seed) Arkansas or (No. 12-seed) Alabama, and then we’ll see from there.”
Lutjen said the team is confident going into the tournament.
“We’re playing here at home,” he said. “We’ll have a great crowd, so we have to use that to our advantage to beat some really good teams.”
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