Tennessee Volunteers tennis coach Sam Winterbotham has never lost a match to South Carolina.
As this is his seventh season with the Vols, that's an impressive statistic.
That said, he has already seen enough opportunities thrown away this season to know that nothing is certain. With two winnable SEC matches put down as losses, Winterbotham is less than pleased.
"The coaches are pissed off," he said of himself and his staff. "The coaches feel we threw an opportunity against Ole Miss away (and) we threw an opportunity against Georgia away. The coaches are pissed off expecting a fantastic performance. We'll find out what the players feel on Friday."
The team's loss to Ole Miss on Sunday was devastating, but Winterbotham noticed a few moments when the team competed exceptionally, particularly earlier that week.
"They competed like champions," Winterbotham said. "They've done that on occasion in the past. They beat Illinois twice like a championship team should do. Then they played UNC, qualified for the national indoors, played like a championship team."
Despite Tennessee's youth and its setback against the Ole Miss Rebel Black Bears, the Vols (14-5, 1-2 SEC) climbed to sixth in Tuesday's ITA national rankings, but not everybody has the ITAs on their minds.
"We're not really thinking about the ranking right now," Mikelis Libietis said. "We just know that now every team is out to beat us now because they want to beat the sixth-ranked team in the country."
The coaching staff is sticking with the team's previous lineup in order to give itself the best chance against South Carolina.
"Right now we feel that gives us the best balance in that one, two and three (position)," Winterbotham said. "Who's to say that in the future we don't go back to another team, but right now it certainly seems to be the best balance we've had all year."
Libietis, Hunter Reese and Brandon Fickey will be in those one, two and three positions again as the Vols will take that balance into Friday's match against the No. 32 Gamecocks (11-5, 1-1 SEC). Tennessee's first home game in over two months has made the players excited to be back on their own courts.
Libietis has lead Tennessee's "best balance" through the season. The UT sophomore put Tennessee on the board against Ole Miss by defeating Nik Scholtz (6-4, 1-6, 6-3); it was his 12th win of his last 13 matches in the No. 1 position.
"In the Ole Miss match we came out strong and fought hard in doubles, but we backed off a little in singles in some places," Libietis said. "It was a disappointing loss, but now we're looking forward to playing at home against South Carolina."
South Carolina's Thiago Pinheiro and Tsvetan Mihov will be looking to add another upset to South Carolina's winning streak. Mihov helped South Carolina draw first blood against Florida with his two-set sweep over Bob van Overbeek (7-6 (5), 6-4) on Court No. 1.
Pinheiro's (15-4) rally to beat Michael Alford (4-6, 6-2, 6-2) in their match triggered South Carolina's comeback win over the Gators.
While the Vols have shown glimpses of championship-caliber action this season, Winterbotham still notices one thing in his young lineup that may take some time growing in to.
"It seems right now we have an inconsistency with that where they don't quite get it," he said. "It's a process. This team's still very young, but we're ranked sixth in the country."