URBANA, Ill. -- For the third time in four years, the Tennessee Volunteers have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tennis Championships.
Just like he did in the regular season, sophomore Hunter Reese beat Malte Stropp on court 2 to clinch Tennessee's 4-2 victory over Mississippi State on Thursday in the round of 16 at the Atkins Tennis Center.
The seventh-seeded Vols (26-8) collected the doubles point and then picked up singles victories from Jarryd Chaplin on court 4 and Brandon Fickey on court 3 to give the Vols three points and set the stage for Reese, who won 6-3, 7-5.
"Mississippi State is a really tough team," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We came out loose in doubles, which was good. We needed to be more relaxed than we were against Clemson (in the last round). I'm proud of them for that. It was great.
"They've competed so well all year, and this was just another day for them."
The Vols now face No. 2-seeded Virginia on Saturday in the quarterfinals. Virginia defeated California 4-0 in its round of 16 match.
While the Vols have have reached the quarterfinals three times in four seasons, only one Vol was on court from the 2010 and 2011 advancing teams: senior Edward Jones. The rest of the squad made their career debuts in final site competition and made the most of their first opportunity.
Tennessee came out of the gates quickly in doubles, going up breaks across all three courts before Mississippi State started tightening up the competition.
In a back and forth match, Reese and Mikelis Libietis settled down late to beat 13th-ranked Stropp and John Angus 8-6 on court 1. Jones and fellow senior John Collins had match points in three previous games before clinching the doubles point 8-6 on court 3.
Entering the final matches of his career, Jones improved to 11-1 in NCAA doubles competition.
In singles, each team won three first sets before the pieces started falling into place.
Chaplin put Tennessee up 2-0 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over James Chaudry on court 4, but the Bulldogs got on the board minutes later when Pedro Dumont defeated Jones 6-2, 6-2 on court 6.
Two more matches finished within minutes of each other. Fickey beat James Chaudry 6-3, 7-5 on court 3 to give the Vols a 3-1 lead. Mississippi State answered on court 5 with Zach White beating Collins 6-4, 6-3.
It all came down to the Vols' sophomore standouts: top-ranked Libietis and No. 34 Reese.
Libietis overcame a tight start to his match and was up a break in the third set over sixth-ranked Bogaerts when Reese started turning things around in the second set.
Reese took the first set over Stropp 6-3 and had chances to go ahead two breaks of serve in the second set, but the Mississippi State junior rallied to go up 5-3 to serve for the set.
With the Vols lining up between courts 1 and 2, Reese regained momentum. After fighting off a set point serving at 3-5, Reese reeled off four games in a row to win the match.
He served out the set 7-5 and celebrated with teammates on Illinois' blue courts. It was his third victory over Stropp this season and fourth in his career. He defeated him earlier this year to clinch the Vols' 4-2 road victory in Starkville.
“That’s the fourth time I’ve played him," Reese said. "He’s tough. We battle every time. We’ve had a few weird ones where you’re never out of it with him. I was up at break at both sets and he came back in both sets, it’s so back and forth. You’ve got to stay tough the whole match.”
Tennessee 4, Mississippi State 2
1. #1 Mikelis Libietis (TENN) vs. #6 Romain Bogaerts (MSU) 3-6, 6-1, 3-1 unf.
2. #34 Hunter Reese (TENN) def. #57 Malte Stropp (MSU) 6-3, 7-5
3. Brandon Fickey (TENN) def. James Chaudry (MSU) 6-3, 6-2
4. Jarryd Chaplin (TENN) def. Jordan Angus (MSU) 6-3, 6-3
5. Zach White (MSU) def. John Collins (TENN) 6-4, 6-3
6. Pedro Dumont (MSU) def. Edward Jones (TENN) 6-2, 6-2
1. #1 Libietis/Reese (TENN) def. #13 Stropp/Angus (MSU) 8-6
2. Wilkinson/Dumont (MSU) def. Fickey/Chaplin (TENN) 9-8(4)
3. #34 Jones/Collins (TENN) def. Bogaerts/White (MSU) 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,6,3,5,2)