No. 17 South Carolina kicks off play in the SEC Men's Tennis Championship on Thu., April 18, at 10 a.m (ET) against No. 20 LSU. The Gamecocks (17-9, 7-5 SEC) finished tied for third in the league standing, but drew the sixth seed at the event. The winner of Thursday's match will face third-seeded Florida (ranked 14th in the nation) at 10 a.m. (ET) on Friday. Following Saturday semifinals, the championship will be decided on Sun., April 21, at 2 p.m. (ET).
South Carolina is enjoying its best season since 2005, hitting several milestones along the way to its 17-9 overall record. Currently ranked No. 17 in the nation, the Gamecocks' 17 wins are the most since the 2005 team went 20-10 en route to the NCAA Sweet 16. South Carolina finished a program-best tied for third in the SEC, tying the school record for SEC wins in a season with seven. The Gamecocks posted their first four-match SEC win streak since 2006 (at Auburn, at Alabama, Arkansas, LSU) that was kicked off by their first SEC weekend sweep since 2006. The season's final win of the season was the program's first over a top-10 opponent since 2005 and lifted the Gamecocks to their highest national ranking since coming in at No. 17 on March 31, 2009.
Proving to be a challenge throughout the lineup, all six singles entries this season have won at least three SEC match, the most Gamecocks to hit the mark in a season since 2003.
Reading the Rankings
The Gamecocks have spent the last four weeks ranked among the top 25 in the nation, including two weeks among the top 20. South Carolina's entry at No. 17 this week is the season's peak. The last time the Gamecocks spent so long among the 25 best in the nation was 2009 when a five-week span included the program's last top-15 ranking on March 10.
In just his third season at the helm, South Carolina head coach Josh Goffi has turned an un-ranked team and into a top-25 program. Taking the reins in 2010-11 with a graduation-depleted roster, the first-year head coach endured a 6-18 season by recruiting the third-ranked recruiting class in 2011. That group's arrival on campus began the program's transformation back into a national contender with a 15-12 record that earned South Carolina a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
The Gamecocks' 32 wins in the last two years are more than any two consecutive efforts since the 2005 and 2006 teams combined for 34 victories. More importantly, the wins have come in the SEC and against the nation's best teams.
For the first time in school history, two South Carolina doubles teams are ranked among the nation's top 50.
Juniors Chip Cox and Tsvetan Mihov have steadily marched up the rankings since debuting at No. 33 on Feb. 26. The duo's 5-5 record against nationally ranked foes includes a 3-3 mark against top-25 tandems that has moved them into the No. 14 spot this week. When they take the court on Thursday, they will be the highest ranked duo to play a match since First-Team All-SEC selections Jerome Jourdan and Vladimir Pavicevic entered the 1998 NCAA Tournament ranked No. 10.
Sophomore Kyle Koch and senior Harry Menzies team up for the nation's 50th-ranked duo. The Gamecocks' No. 2 tandem is 7-5 in SEC action as part of their 15-7 record. Their 15 wins are the most dual-match victories for a Gamecock duo since All-American Guillaume Legat teamed with Olof Akesson to post an 18-5 mark in the No. 2 doubles spot in 1998.
Tough at the Top
Junior Tsvetan Mihov joined the Gamecocks for the spring season and immediate impacted the top of both the singles and doubles lineups. Ranked 39th in the nation this week, he is tied for second on the team with 14 overall victories, and six of those have come in SEC action, including two over top-10 opponents in the last two weeks of the season. Only three other players in school history have accumulated at least six SEC singles wins from the No. 1 spot. Mihov tied Tom Eklund's 2005 total, which earned him First-Team All-SEC honors that season. Prior to that, All-American Guillaume Legat's 9-1 record in 2001 bested the previous school record of seven set by All-American Johan Sandberg in 1994.
After earning ITA Carolina Region Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, Andrew Adams saw his second spring campaign get off to a slow start due to a nagging injury. Ranked No. 80 this week, the sophomore went 5-4 in SEC action and posted four wins against nationally ranked foes. Adams joined the fray in doubles this season, teaming with Thiago Pinheiro in the No. 3 spot in the order. The duo is undefeated in five matches, helping the Gamecocks win the doubles point in their last four regular-season matches.
Three's a Charm
The No. 3 entry in the Gamecocks' singles lineup, Thiago Pinheiro, is not only the most gregarious personality on the team, he is the emotional center of the group. The sophomore is 14-4 in dual matches, including a 5-3 mark in the SEC. South Carolina is winless in the four matches where Pinheiro has not registered a point for the team.
Koch-ing on High
Sophomore Kyle Koch turned a rough start to his spring into one of the most successful SEC seasons in school history. After posting a 7-7 non-conference record that included five tough three-set losses, the Irmo, S.C., product committed to restarting his season when SEC play began. Koch won eight straight SEC decisions in singles, dropping just three doubles matches during the stretch as well. He closed the season with nine SEC victories, tying him for the second-most in school history, trailing the record by just one.