GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- After winning the program's third South Atlantic Conference championship in four years and second in a row during 2016, the Tusculum College men's tennis team opens up the fall portion of its 2016-17 schedule this Saturday at King University.
The Pioneers went 19-4 last season and finished 10-1 in the SAC to earn a tie for first place with Wingate. Head coach Adam Jackson, the reigning SAC Coach of the Year, begins his first full season with six returning players from last year's championship squad.
Tusculum opens its season on Saturday with a trip to Bristol to take on King. The Pioneers defeated the Tornado 7-2 in last fall's meeting, with King going on to compile a 13-11 overall record and fourth place in Conference Carolinas at 7-3.
After a trip to Sumter, South Carolina to participate in the ITA Southeast Region from September 30 to October 2, the Pioneers wrap up their fall slate on Saturday, Oct. 8 with a 10 a.m. match against Virginia-Wise. The Cavaliers, who went 12-9 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain East Conference last season, lost 9-0 at home to the Pioneers last fall.
Tusculum kicks off its spring schedule with a challenging series of three matches in two days in Georgia. The Pioneers open the weekend against three-time defending NAIA national champions Georgia Gwinnett on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. Tusculum lost 9-0 to the Grizzlies last season, who went 26-0 last season and have won 32 straight matches overall.
On Sunday, Feb. 12 the Pioneers will play West Alabama at 9 a.m. on the campus of Georgia Gwinnett, then travel for an afternoon match at North Georgia at 3 p.m. West Alabama went 11-12 overall and 5-4 in the Gulf South Conference last season, while North Georgia finished 18-8 overall and 5-5 in the Peach Belt Conference, earning a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
The Pioneers open conference play on Thursday, Feb. 16 at Mars Hill. The Lions finished 4-14 overall and 1-10 in the conference, including an 8-1 loss to the Pioneers in Greeneville last season. Tusculum continues on the road on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at Brevard, against a Tornados squad that was 1-19 overall and 0-11 in the SAC a year ago. The Pioneers beat the Tornados 9-0 in last season's meeting in Greeneville.
Tusculum plays the first of five consecutive home matches on Saturday, Feb. 25 against Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears were 5-14 overall last season and went 2-9 in conference play, with a 7-2 home loss to the Pioneers on their ledger. Tusculum steps back out of conference on Tuesday, Feb. 28 against North Greenville. The Pioneers beat the Crusaders 7-2 last season, part of a 7-12 campaign for the Conference Carolinas member.
Seven consecutive conference matches await the Pioneers as the calendar turns to March, starting on Wednesday, March 1 against Carson-Newman. The Eagles were 3-8 in the conference and 6-14 overall last season, with an 8-1 home court loss to the Pioneers among them. On Saturday, March 4 Tusculum will host Lincoln Memorial at the Nichols Tennis Complex. The Railsplitters were 8-11 overall and 5-6 in the SAC, and lost 6-3 to the Pioneers at home last year.
After a trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for three matches March 6-8 over Spring Break, the Pioneers return home to play Anderson on Sunday, March 12. The Trojans dealt the Pioneers their only conference loss last season, winning 5-4 at home. Anderson finished in fourth place in the SAC with a 13-7 overall record and 8-3 in the conference.
Tusculum heads out for a two-match road trip to North Carolina on March 17 and 18. The Pioneers play at Catawba on Friday, March 17 against an Indians squad that went 11-11 overall and 5-6 in the SAC last year, including a 7-2 loss at Tusculum. On Saturday, March 18, the Pioneers face off with rival Wingate in a matchup of the schools that have won or shared the SAC championship in eight of the last nine years. Last year, the Pioneers rallied from a 4-2 deficit to beat the Bulldogs 5-4, the only league loss in a season that saw Wingate go 17-5 overall and 10-1 in the SAC.
The Pioneers are back home for weekend matches on Saturday, March 25 against Newberry and Sunday, March 26 against Coker. The Wolves were the fifth seed in last year's SAC Tournament, but nearly rode a pair of upset wins, including one over Tusculum in the semifinals, to the conference title before losing to Queens in the finals. The Wolves went 20-6 overall and 7-4 in the SAC, but lost at home to the Pioneers by a 5-4 score in the regular-season meeting. The Cobras were 8-12 overall and earned the sixth seed in the SAC Tournament with a 6-5 record, but fell to the Pioneers 7-2 in last year's meeting in Hartsville, South Carolina.
Tusculum steps back out of conference on Thursday, March 30 at Young Harris. The Mountain Lions finished 11-11 overall last season and were 1-9 in the highly-competitive Peach Belt Conference. The final conference match of the regular season is at Queens University of Charlotte on Saturday, April 1. The Pioneers beat the Royals 6-3 in a match delayed by rain, as Queens finished in third place in the SAC at 15-4 overall and 9-2 in conference, before winning three SAC Tournament matches to claim their first league title.
The Pioneers wrap up the regular season with a pair of non-conference matches, starting Saturday, April 8 at home against Bluefield State. The Big Blues, who are annually one of the strongest teams in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region, went 21-8 last season and participated in the Round of 16 at the NCAA championships in Denver. Bluefield State beat Tusculum 6-3 at home in a competitive match last spring.
The final match of the regular season for the Pioneers is their first-ever meeting with Emmanuel College, as the Pioneers head to Franklin Springs, Georgia to face off with the Lions on Tuesday, April 18. Emmanuel, a member of Conference Carolinas, finished 2-19 overall and 0-10 in the league last year.
The 2017 South Atlantic Conference Men's Tennis Championships will be held April 20 to 22 at the Rock Hill Tennis Center in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The top six teams in the league will meet to determine the conference champion, with the number one and two seeds receiving a bye to the semifinals.