Tennessee sophomore Mikelis “Big Mike” Libietis joined some big company in Vols tennis lore Thursday.
The hard-hitting Latvian became the third UT player in program history to be chosen SEC men’s player of the year by league coaches — joining UT associate head coach Chris Woodruff (1993) and John-Patrick Smith (2010 and 2011), who is now on the pro tour.
“It’s incredible,” Libietis said Thursday. “You see the two players who got it earlier, Chris Woodruff and J.P. To join them is a big honor. It’s incredible what you can accomplish with this team and these coaches. I’m really proud of it.”
Playing No. 1 in the lineup, Libietis was 8-1 in SEC singles matches this spring and 10-1 in doubles.
He is ranked No. 2 nationally in singles and No. 1 in doubles with sophomore Hunter Reese.
“We’re playing amazing right now,” Libietis said of him and Reese. “I hope the momentum carries over into the NCAA tournament.”
Reese also was chosen to the All-SEC first team, and UT junior Jarryd Chaplin was chosen to the second team.
As the Vols filed onto Barksdale Stadium courts for practice Thursday, they congratulated Libietis for the award.
“It’s very well deserved,” UT coach Sam Winterbotham said. “The whole team, players, coaches, support staff are all proud of Mikelis.”
Libietis is in his second year playing No. 1 for the Vols. His overall singles record this season is 35-5, and he has 15 more victories than last season.
The No. 6-ranked Vols (23-8) are coming off a 4-0 loss to Georgia in the SEC finals on Sunday. They will learn their NCAA draw on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“We had a good SEC tournament,” Libietis said. “I think we were a little disappointed with the finals, but our team is on a good track. It was good to be in the SEC finals, and I think it’s going to help us to move forward in the NCAAs.”
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.