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March 16, 2006

Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina’s men’s tennis team will step out of conference as it heads to Las Vegas for a match with UNLV. The match between the Gamecocks and Rebels has been moved to Friday, March 17, at 1:30 p.m. PT. The Gamecocks (8-8, 1-3 SEC) have defeated the Rebels (10-3, 0-0 MWC) in both meetings between the schools, with Carolina taking a 6-1 decision in 2003 and edging UNLV, 4-3, last season.

“When you go out of conference, obviously the number one concern is to get everyone healthy for our next SEC match,” said USC head coach Kent DeMars. “We need to make sure we don’t use up our guys and tire them out too much. But we’re also playing a nationally-ranked team in UNLV and getting a win over them would be huge. If we can get at least four or five wins over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams I think we’ll be in good shape, we’ve already got two (Wake Forest and Mississippi State) and have a chance to beat another possible tournament team in Charleston Southern next week. I think we’re just going to go out there, try some different things with the lineup we can’t do in conference matches, and hopefully bring back a win.”

Scouting the Gamecocks
USC took two difficult losses over the weekend, falling, 7-0, at No. 1 Georgia on Friday and dropping a 4-1 match to Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday. The defeats dropped Carolina to 8-8 overall and 1-3 in Southeastern Conference play, the first time the Gamecocks have been at or below .500 since they finished the 2001 season with a mark of 13-13. However, Carolina’s record is somewhat deceiving, as seven of USC’s eight losses have come to teams in the top 30 of this week’s Fila Collegiate Tennis Poll, including four defeats against schools in the top 15. The Gamecocks’ only loss to a team outside the top 30 was a 4-1 loss to No. 41 Penn at the USTA/ITA National Team Indoors in Seattle.

For the Rebels
UNLV, which went 16-8 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference a year ago, has continued its recent upswing in 2006. The Rebels have already picked up wins over Texas-San Antonio, Southern Mississippi, Marquette and No. 69 Ball State. Their only losses this year have come on the road to ranked teams, with the defeats coming to No. 56 Fresno State, No. 43 Western Michigan and No. 35 San Diego.

The Series
The Gamecocks and Rebels have met just twice all-time, with both of the matches coming in the desert. Carolina, led by All-American Seth Rose, took a decisive 6-1 victory over UNLV in 2003, while current senior Tom Eklund took a three-set victory over then-No. 63 Henner Nehles at No. 1 singles to clinch USC’s 4-3 victory a year ago. Carolina has also done well in all-time meetings with the Rebels and their fellow Mountain West Conference members, as the Gamecocks hold a 9-5 record against the current MWC schools, and have a losing record against only the conference’s newest member, TCU.

Injury Bug Bites Carolina Again
USC got good news this past week, as juniors Pedro Rodrigues and Dmitry Babenko were cleared to return to the court for the first time in weeks. However, bad news quickly followed as Carolina learned it would be without the services of senior Geraldo Knorr for an indefinite period of time due to injury. Knorr led the Gamecocks in singles victories in 2004 (25) and is currently leading the 2006 squad with a mark of 16-8 in singles play. Rodrigues missed 11 matches with an ankle injury and was able to return against Georgia on Friday, while Babenko, who was out for nearly a month after sustaining a back injury, rejoined the lineup in Knoxville against the Volunteers. The Gamecocks have had both juniors, who combined to post 34 singles wins in 2005, in the lineup for just one other dual match this year (Troy, Jan. 28). The match against the Trojans was also the only time in 2006 that Coach DeMars has been able to put all of his top six into the singles lineup.

Next Up
Carolina will take on one more non-conference school before resuming SEC play, as it hosts Big South foe Charleston Southern next Wednesday, March 22, at 2 p.m. The Gamecocks are 6-0 all-time against the Buccaneers (4-4, 1-1 Big South), with the last match resulting in a 4-0 win for the Gamecocks in 2001.