Mississippi State rocketed its way out of the first round of SEC Championship the first time since 2005 Wednesday, breaking an eight-match losing skid in the event with a 4-2 triumph against the No. 56-ranked Missouri Tigers at MSU's A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre. State is hosting the five-day event this weekend as part of Super Bulldog Weekend festivities.
The Lady Bulldogs, who improved to 9-13 on the year, now face fifth-seeded Tennessee in the second round at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Pitts Tennis Centre for the right to advance to Friday's quarterfinals. The win was State's second over the Tigers in just four days on the MSU campus, also having defeated them Sunday 4-2 to close out the regular season.
MSU clinched Wednesday's win on court 6 when true freshman Sarai Flores rallied to claim a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win against Missouri's Madison Ryhner.
"I knew I had to stay focused," said Flores, a freshman playing in her first championship. "I had to put the first set behind me and move forward."
Mississippi State caught the early momentum by claiming the doubles point. MSU's No. 68-ranked tandem of Alexandra Perper and Naomi Tran initiated the Bulldog winning trend, expanding the pair's overall record to 13-9, with a dominant 8-1 triumph against Missouri's duo of Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Alex Clark at the No. 1 position. Missouri responded with a court 3 win to even the score, as Elisha Gabb and Madison Rhyner defeated Petra Ferancova and Sarai Flores of MSU 8-4.
MSU's Georgiana Patrasc and Roseline Dion then sealed the doubles point in a down-to-the-wire battle on court 2. Patrasc and Dion took down Mizzou's Rachel Stuhlmann and Maria Christensen in a 9-8(2) decision, breaking back at 8-7 down, to give MSU the early 1-0 lead.
Lady Bulldog tennis dropped the first set at five positions to begin singles competition, but the team battled through the deficits, making a big comeback to clinch the win.
Singles play began in favor of Missouri, as the Lady Tigers locked the overall score at 1-1 with a 6-3, 6-0 victory for Gabb against MSU's Ferancova on court 4. Dion then gave the Lady Bulldogs a 2-1 edge with a 6-3, 6-2 court 5 take down against Clark of Missouri.
MSU stretched its overall lead to 3-1 as Lady Bulldog veteran Perper posted her 18th victory of the season against Missouri's Stuhlmann. Perper stormed back after dropping the first set to take the match on court 2 in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 decision.
A determined Missouri team fought to remain within reach of a win, bringing the score to 3-2 with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 triumph for Christensen of the Lady Tigers against MSU's Naomi Tran at the No. 3 position. But Flores's clinching victory came soon after to advance the Lady Bulldogs to the next round of the tournament.
Updates for the 2013 SEC Tournament and MSU women's tennis can be found through Twitter (@SECtennis and @mstateWT) and through live stats on the tournament headquarters page at www.HailState.com/SECtennis.
Ranked inside the top 10 for the first time this season, the ninth-ranked Mississippi State men's tennis squad (16-8) will open up the 2013 SEC Championship in Oxford, Miss., against the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (19-10) Thursday, April 18. The match is set to begin at 6 p.m. CT at Ole Miss' Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center.
The winner of Thursday's second-round match will move on to face top-seeded and second-ranked Georgia Friday at 6 p.m. CT.
State, who has won three of its last four matches, has faced Kentucky three times in SEC Championship, having won two of those contests. The most recent matchup came in 2006 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when the Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 4-2 to advance to the semifinals. The teams last meeting overall was earlier this season, when the Wildcats claimed a first-round win over the Bulldogs in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Seattle.
Leading the way for State in singles is the 1-2 combo of freshman No. 12 Romain Bogaerts and junior No. 55 Malte Stropp. Bogaerts, who is 15-5 this season and 6-3 in the SEC, has won 13 of his matches at the top spot. Stropp, who has garnered 13 victories this spring, has picked up four of those against a ranked opponent.
In the middle of the MSU lineup have been senior James Chaudry and freshman Jordan Angus. Chaudry has won nine matches this season, with eight of those at the No. 3 position. Angus has claimed 15 wins this spring, tying Bogaerts for the most dual match victories this season.
Anchoring the Maroon and White order is junior Zach White and freshman Pedro Dumont. White has won eight matches this spring, with six SEC wins as well. Dumont has won 12 matches in dual match play, including winning his last five matches.
Also seeing considerable time in the Bulldog lineup this season is freshman Stefan Vinti, who has picked up four victories this spring.
In doubles, the 10th-ranked duo of Angus and Stropp sit atop the MSU lineup. The top 10 team has won nine matches this spring, with six coming against ranked opponents. Following suit for the Bulldogs is the duo of Dumont and Ethan Wilkinson (2-2 this spring) and the team of Bogaerts and White (2-1 this spring).
The Wildcats are led by ranked singles players Anthony Rossi (17th) and Tom Jomby (21st), while in doubles UK is paced by the ninth-ranked duo of Jomby and Kevin Lai.
For more information on Mississippi State men's tennis, follow the Bulldogs on Twitter (www.twitter.com/mstatemt) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/mstatemt).
As of late, the Mississippi State men's golf team is on fire and now Golfstat.com has taken notice, ranking the Bulldogs 25th in the latest poll released Wednesday morning. The Top 25 ranking is the highest the Bulldogs have climbed since Golfstat.com began the poll in 1998.
"Anytime you are recognized as one of the Top 25 teams in the country, you are doing something right," Coach Clay Homan said. "Our goal all year has been to just keep improving and let the results speak for themselves. We've accomplished a lot this year, but really our season is only getting started. What we do in the post-season against the best in the nation is what we will be remembered for."
State ranked 36th in 2007-2008, the year the Bulldogs went to the NCAA Nationals. The third highest ranking for MSU was in 1998-1999 under the guidance of Nicky Goetze whose club won three tournaments.
MSU gives the SEC its ninth member in the Golfstat.com Top 25, the most of any conference. The PAC-12 ranked second with five teams.
Homan's squad will turn their attention to the SEC Championship this Friday when they head to St. Simons Island, Ga. The April 19-21 tournament will be held at the Sea Island Golf Course.
Fans can also follow the men's golf program through Facebook at facebook.com/mstateMG and on Twitter at @mstateMG.
Vic Schaefer's inaugural Mississippi State recruiting class added another standout as New Albany all-state forward Jazmine Spears signed with the Bulldogs for the 2013 season.
"Jazmine is a great player who comes from a great family. Scoring over 3,200 points in her career shows she has an offensive mindset that we are excited about," Schaefer said. "Every player we have signed has an offensive skillset that will add to our team. Our returning players will tell you they have a tremendous defensive mindset, so there will be a good balance next season. Jazmine and the five freshmen we signed in the fall will provide a great influx of youth to our program."
Last season, Spears earned all-state honors from the Clarion-Ledger for the third-straight year and was named the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Player of the Year after pacing John Stroud's New Albany High School squad to a 19-7 record with 30.6 points, 15.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.7 blocks per contest.
"I'm very excited to become a Bulldog. I'm ready to experience the college life and play against some really good players," Spears said. "Coach Schaefer and the other coaches welcomed me. The way they treated me, they made it feel like home."
Following her senior season, Spears was named Clarion-Ledger First Team All-State while also earning a place on the Mississippi roster for the prestigious Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game. She was also selected to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Game, where she earned defensive MVP honors after leading her North squad to a 74-62 win.
Spears, who scored 3,277 points and pulled down 2,149 rebounds in her career, earned second team All-State honors as a junior after taking first-team accolades her sophomore season.
During that junior season, she scored 28.6 points per contest while grabbing 16 rebounds, 4.5 assists and three blocks.
"I've coached basketball for 28 years, and Jazmine is the best female player I've coached," Stroud said. "She has been a five-year starter for us and has earned all-state honors. She is a tremendous basketball player who has a tremendous offensive skillset. Jazmine has a great court awareness and basketball sense. She is like a coach on the floor.
"Jazmine has the ability to play different positions on the floor, and she does a lot of things well. She will be a big surprise to the Mississippi State program, and I have all the confidence that she will be a big contributor."
As a sophomore, she captured first team all-state accolades after averaging 17.2 points and 11.5 rebounds to lead New Albany to the Mississippi Class 4A state championship.
Spears joins Texas all-state selections Ketara Chapel and Dominique Dillingham; Stoneleigh-Burnham School center Chinwe Okorie; Georgia Super 64 and all-state selection Breanna Richardson; and Mississippi all-state guard Kiki Patterson in comprising State's 2013 freshman class.