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1 May 2007
Al Muskewitz: "Gamecocks Should Be More at Ease on 2nd NCAA Trip to Ole Miss"

Al Muskewitz
Sports Writer
Anniston Star

The Jacksonville State tennis team shouldn’t have any excuse for not being comfortable this time around in the NCAA Tournament.

The Gamecocks waited two weeks to get their NCAA Tournament assignment, and when it finally came Tuesday afternoon, they were dispatched to the same venue they went for their Division I debut appearance two years ago.

The Gamecocks (17-6) will play seventh-seeded host Ole Miss (22-4) in their first round match May 11 at 4 p.m. Minnesota (15-9) and South Alabama (21-4) play in the other half of the bracket at 1.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Gamecocks coach Steve Bailey said. “There’s good and there’s bad in that. The good is we know where all the restaurants are, the practice facilities, where the coaches meeting is. I know the coaches. I’m familiar with the town. That’s good. But then it’s kind of like going on vacation sometimes. Sometimes you want to see a different venue and experience different things.

“Of course, for these kids, it will be different. I think it’s good … Ole Miss, they love their tennis. They might be right there with Georgia as far as drawing a crowd. It will be packed, no doubt about it.”

Two years ago, the senior-laden Gamecocks made the program’s NCAA Division I tournament debut in Oxford and lost to the Rebels 4-0.

Andres Amores is the only player on their roster who played in that event, but two others did experience the trip. He was leading his opponent in the first set, but didn’t reach a conclusion as the match was clinched in the interim. The Gamecocks also were serving for the No. 1 doubles win when Ole Miss clinched the doubles point.

Joey Unkenholz made the trip, but as the team’s No. 7 man wasn’t in the lineup; he joked that he played his regional match against one of the Gamecocks’ assistant coaches. Bernie Bachino wasn’t with JSU at the time, but he was in the same position as Unkenholz with an Auburn team that won a first-round match and advance to meet the Rebels in the second.

“Now I’m playing the guy I watched two years ago,” Bachino said. “That’s cool, because I remember watching him two years ago thinking then it would be cool to play against these guys. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s much more fun to play than to watch.”

The Gamecocks almost didn’t get to see their announcement. The team gathered to watch the selection show in the lounge area of the International House, but a few minutes before the telecast began, it was discovered their TVs didn’t get ESPN News.

They adjourned to sports information director Greg Seitz’ house and were settled in well in time to see their name go up on the board.

But even that had some mystery. Bailey was hoping the team would be paired with top-ranked No. 1 seeded Georgia, but that was dashed right off the bat.

After the third regional was announced with no JSU sighting, Bailey jokingly said, “I wonder if we got in.” He figured Ole Miss was the destination for sure after the fourth regional, which included Alabama, was announced, and the supposition was confirmed moments later.

The Rebels are making their 14th consecutive NCAA appearance and 16th overall. They’ve advanced to the Sweet Sixteen 11 times and the Final Four four times. This will be the seventh straight year they’ve hosted a regional, and they’ve advanced to the Sweet 16 every year of those but two.

“We’re just going to go over there and see what happens,” Bailey said. “Our game plan’s very simple: We’re going to play our game and don’t try to do too much. A lot of times when you play someone you think is better than you, you try to do too much, we’re not going to do that.

“If they’re good enough to hit it by us 100 times, more power to them, but we’re just going to try to play our game like we have all year. We’re not going to change anything.”

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Anniston Star.

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