Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis named SEC Player of Year in men's tennis

Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis returns a shot to Kentucky's Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek on in a 2011 match at Goodfriend Tennis Center.

Tennessee's Mikelis Libietis returns a shot to Kentucky's Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek on in a 2011 match at Goodfriend Tennis Center.

Sophomore Mikelis Libietis became the third Vol in program history to be named SEC Men’s Tennis Player of the Year, the conference office released Thursday.

After leading the Vols to a second-place finish in the SEC, Libietis is currently ranked No. 2 nationally in singles and holds the No. 1 doubles ranking with sophomore Hunter Reese heading into the NCAA Championships.

Libietis and Reese were both named first-team All-SEC, the second all-conference honors for both young Vols. Junior Jarryd Chaplin was named second-team All-SEC for the first time in his career.

A native of Priekuli, Latvia, Libietis was nearly flawless during SEC play in his second year atop the Tennessee lineup, going 8-1 in singles and 10-1 in doubles.

Just a glance at his record alone shows how much Libietis has improved since his freshman season. The powerful right hander boasts a 35-5 overall singles record, 15 more wins than he had all of last year. He is also 29-7 in doubles, including 11-0 with Reese.

“What Mikelis has done this season is remarkable, and he’s certainly a major factor in this team’s success,” Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. “Mikelis has grown immensely as a player and as a person. The maturity he has shown throughout the year is testament to that growth.

“He still has a ways to go in that maturity process, as we all do, but we’re so impressed with his character and how much he cares about this program. It’s very well deserved. The whole team, players, coaches, support staff are proud of Mikelis.”

Tennessee has now been home to the SEC Player of the Year three times in the last four years. John-Patrick Smith was voted the SEC’s best in 2010 and 2011 while helping the Vols to back-to-back conference titles.

Associate head coach Chris Woodruff earned the first-ever SEC Player of the Year award in 1993, the year he won the NCAA Singles Championship.

Reese, from Kennesaw, Ga., is now a two-time All-SEC recipient. Like Libietis, the sophomore Vol also showed marked improvement in his second year at Tennessee, going 29-7 (6-3 SEC) in singles and 30-7 (11-0 SEC) in doubles.

He has been ranked as high as No. 26 and bagged his first singles title -- the Wake Forest Spring Invitational -- to open January competition. He and Libietis were both named to the SEC All-Tournament Team last week as they led the Vols to the finals.

“To be on the All-SEC first team is an incredible accomplishment because is means you are one of the top players in the country,” Winterbotham said. “It really is a who’s who of college tennis players. It's a testament to his work ethic and growth as a player and person. He is an incredible competitor.

“To be honest, I’m more proud of who he is becoming as a person. This is just the tip of the iceberg for Hunter.”

Chaplin, from Sydney, Australia, spent the spring season at many spots in the Tennessee lineup and proved to be a vital part of UT’s success down the stretch. The serve-and-volley specialist went 8-3 in singles in the SEC on courts 3 and 4, and he went 6-4 in doubles with three teammates. He has 19 singles wins and 26 doubles wins, both season bests.

“For Jarryd Chaplin to be voted as part of the team really proves as we’ve been saying all year, he’s one of our unsung heroes,” Winterbotham said. “It’s great to see the rest of the conference has the same appreciation for what Jarryd brings to the program as we do. As a program, we are so proud of Jarryd and what he is accomplishing at Tennessee.”

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Comments » 2

tturley#297658 writes:

Congrats on a great year Mikelis, good luck in the NCAA's, and hope you come back to Tenn next year!

mogreer_tn#213464 writes:

Congratulations, I am always proud to hear about UT Vols and Lady Vols great accomplishments.

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