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March 9, 2006

Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina’s men’s tennis team hits the road this weekend as it makes trips to Athens, Ga. and Knoxville, Tenn. for a pair of Southeastern Conference matches. The No. 31 Gamecocks (8-6, 1-1 SEC) are making just their second road trip of the season as they travel to face top-ranked Georgia (12-0, 2-0 SEC) on Friday afternoon, beginning at 2:30 p.m., and then pay a visit to the Volunteers (5-3, 0-2 SEC) on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Scouting the Gamecocks
South Carolina is coming off of a highly successful week, as it knocked off No. 13 Wake Forest, 4-3, at Winston-Salem, N.C. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and followed that up with a 5-2 win in its SEC opener against No. 27 Mississippi State on Friday in Columbia. The Gamecocks, who rate as the No. 31 team in the country this week, have now won their first conference match in four of the last five seasons. USC has been led by the play of sophomores Yevgeny Supeko and Jaime Cuellar in singles, and both players picked up a match-clinching win this past week, with Supeko downing Marius Adamski for the decisive point at Wake Forest and Cuellar knocking off Philippe Frayssinoux in three sets for the Gamecocks’ fourth point against MSU.

For the Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs own one of the country’s most successful campaigns this year, are unbeaten through their first 12 matches and are rated as the No. 1 team in the land. Included in that total are four wins in Seattle, Wash. that gave the Bulldogs the 2006 USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championship. UGA became the first SEC school to ever win the Championships, a tournament that annually serves as a foreshadowing of the NCAA Championships, held in late May. The Bulldogs also have the nation’s No. 1 singles player on their side in junior John Isner, as well as two other Top 30 singles players, with Luis Flores and Strahinja Bobusic holding down spots 29 and 30 in Tuesday’s rankings. UGA also boasts one of the country’s best doubles lineups: Bobusic and Colin Purcell are ranked ninth in the country, and they are joined by No. 7 Isner and Antonio Ruiz, who are the defending NCAA Doubles Champions.

Up On Rocky Top
Tennessee, which finished fifth in the SEC last season and knocked off Carolina and Ole Miss on their way to an appearance in the SEC Tournament Final, has downed two ranked opponents this season, taking out No. 59 Furman and No. 65 East Tennessee State in February. The Volunteers have also beaten Michigan State, UNC-Greensboro and Memphis, but losses to three Top 20 sides (No. 9 Ohio State, No. 17 LSU and No. 20 Arkansas) have dropped UT to 55th in the new computer rankings, released on Tuesday.

The Match-Ups
Carolina trails the all-time series with both schools, but has had a good measure of success in recent years against their SEC East rivals. UGA holds a 22-6 all-time advantage over the Gamecocks, but Carolina has downed the Bulldogs in two of their last three regular season meetings, including a 4-3 upset in Columbia on April 1 last season. Against the Vols, USC has had much more success overall and trails just 20-16 since the rivalry was born in 1976. Much like against Georgia, USC has held the upper hand as of late in the series though, with the Gamecocks holding a 7-3 lead in the schools’ last 10 regular season matches, including the last three in a row.

On the Road
Carolina will be playing in just its second and third true road matches of 2006 this weekend, having knocked off No. 13 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem last Tuesday, Feb. 28. The only other contests USC has played away from the Capital City have been the three matches they played at the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle. The Gamecocks will get little rest following this weekend however, as eight of their final 13 contests will be away from the Sam Daniels Tennis Facility.

Injuries Continue To Bite Gamecocks
South Carolina has been bitten hard and often by the injury bug this year, with sophomore Pedro Rodrigues having missed the last 11 matches with an ankle injury, while junior Dmitry Babenko has seen action in just three contests this season due to a back injury. Babenko, Supeko and Cuellar were all held out of at least parts of the fall season as well due to various injuries and illnesses.

Up Next
The Gamecocks are in the middle of one of their toughest stretches of the season with five of their next six contests on the road, broken up only by the visit of in-state foe Charleston Southern on March 22. Carolina will face No. 1 Georgia and Tennessee this weekend, then head to Las Vegas to tangle with UNLV on March 18, head home to face the Buccaneers on the 22nd and then step back into SEC play at the hostile courts of LSU (March 24) and Arkansas (March 26) before returning to Columbia for their final home stand of the year.