The Tennessee men's tennis team pushed ninth-ranked Mississippi State to the brink but could not complete the comeback Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC championships in Starkville, Miss.
The Vols fought off match points and forced three sets on three courts but eventually fell 4-2 to the host team in front of a capacity crowd at A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
Though they lost the deciding point in doubles, freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese led the way for the Vols in singles at the top of the lineup.
Libietis recording his first career top-10 victory, beating No. 10 Artem Illyushin 7-6 (6), 6-2.
"There's a lot of room for growth, and I can see the growth happening," UT coach Sam Winterbotham said. I can see Mikelis growing. He came out timid in doubles but in singles played to win.
"There are some other guys out there just battling and doing an awesome job, but we have to be able to turn that fighting into a little meanness. To turn that fight into a win."
The 16th-ranked Vols (14-13) now await their NCAA tournament fate on May 1 during the NCAA.com selection show.
"We have improved so much as a team," Winterbotham said. "It's clear for anybody to see. Everybody keeps talking about how well the team has improved and how well they've done this year. In everybody's minds, apart from the coaching staff, this team is overachieving.
"I believe this team is capable of winning this (SEC) tournament. I'm proud of what we're doing but we've got to get better."