ROCK HILL, S.C. --- The Tusculum men's and women's tennis teams will open play at the South Atlantic Conference Championships Thursday with first-round matches at the Rock Hill Tennis Center.
The Tusculum men (12-10, 6-5 SAC) are the number-six seed and will face third-seeded Lincoln Memorial at 9 a.m. Thursday, while the Pioneer women (17-6, 9-2 SAC) earned the third seed and will take on sixth-seeded Newberry Thursday at 1 p.m.
SAC Tennis Championship page
The Pioneers opened the season with six wins in their first eight matches, including a 3-0 mark in conference play, before losing at home to Lincoln Memorial by a 5-4 score on March 4. Tusculum led the match 2-1 after doubles, but the Railsplitters won four of the six singles contests to earn the win, the second of nine straight victories by LMU that propelled them into sole possession of third place in the final league standings at 9-2. The win snapped a four-year losing streak by the Railsplitters to the Pioneers, and gave LMU a 12-7 edge in the all-time series.
Last season, the Pioneers lost 5-1 to Newberry in the opening round of the conference tournament. Tusculum's last appearance in the semifinals came in 2015 when the Pioneers had a first-round bye, then beat Anderson 5-2 before losing 5-1 to Wingate in the finals. Tusculum and Lincoln Memorial have never met in the SAC Men's Tennis Championship tournament.
The winner between Tusculum and Lincoln Memorial will play against second-seeded Wingate on Friday at 9 a.m. Top-seeded Queens will face the winner of Thursday's other first-round match between fourth-seeded Anderson and fifth-seeded Newberry, with the championship match scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at Rock Hill. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Men's Tennis Championship.
Tusculum finished tied for second place in the SAC with Anderson and Queens at 9-2, but earned the third seed by tiebreaker. The Pioneers have played a challenging schedule this season, facing seven nationally-ranked teams and three Division I teams in exhibition matches. The Pioneers were 1-6 against the ranked opponents, but compiled a perfect 16-0 record against unranked foes.
One of the Pioneers' wins was an 8-1 victory over Newberry at home on March 25 that was the ninth consecutive triumph for the Pioneers, six of which were conference matches. Newberry went 6-5 in the conference, including 5-4 losses to Queens and Carson-Newman, and finished with an overall record of 15-9.
Tusculum and Newberry have met twice in the past three years in the SAC Championship tournament. The Pioneers defeated the Wolves 5-4 in the 2014 championship match to earn their first conference title since 2008, but the Wolves handed Tusculum a 5-3 loss in the semifinals of last year's tournament. All-time, Tusculum is 17-3 against Newberry but just 2-2 in the conference tournament.
The winner between Tusculum and Newberry will advance to face second-seeded Queens on Friday at 1 p.m. Top-seeded Wingate will take on the winner of Thursday's other first-round match between fourth-seeded Anderson and fifth-seeded Carson-Newman, with the championship match scheduled for Saturday at noon, also at Rock Hill. An automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Women's Tennis Championship will be presented to the tournament winner.