It is crunch time for the Tennessee men's tennis team as UT enters its final weekend of regular season play.
Tennessee (15-9), ranked 21st in the country, travels to No. 29 Auburn on Friday and then will head to No. 33 Alabama on Sunday.
Tennessee sits, along with four other teams, at 4-6 in the SEC, and with the standings being so tight, the Vols could find themselves anywhere from sixth to eleventh in the league at the conclusion of the season.
"From the start of the season, we've been talking about getting better every week," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "Obviously, we would have preferred to not be 4-6 in the league right now. We've had some matches that we wish we could have back, but I feel like we're in a really good frame of mind right now to go into this weekend and play better and get ready for the SEC tournament.
"I feel like our team is building right now and it has a great energy to it. So I'm excited about that."
The team is riding the high of a two-match winning streak and can point to a change in doubles pairing as a catalyst for that success.
Senior Jarryd Chaplin and junior Andrew Dromsky became the team's second doubles pairing behind Hunter Reese and Mikelis Libietis, the No. 1 doubles duo in the country.
"We didn't have the energy we needed in doubles," Winterbotham said about the change in pairings. "I felt like a couple of teams got stagnant and they had some hard matches. It's not that they lost confidence, it was just that the team was losing confidence and that's often the case. You've got to change things up once in a while, and what I've really been impressed with is Andrew and Jarryd have played really well together.
"It's been really good, and that has been a shot in the arm for us because we have a great No. 1 team and to have a really strong two and three is also good."
The upcoming matches present another challenge for the Vols.
"Auburn and Alabama are two very good teams," said Winterbotham. "Both of them have top-20, top-25 talent. It's going to be a real battle in both places. Last time we played a night match in Auburn, it was a pretty hostile crowd and a lot of fun. It was an exciting venue."
Tennessee fans carry a deep disdain for the rival-Crimson Tide, and that translates to the tennis court as well.
"The casual fan wants Tennessee to beat Alabama in everything and we obviously understand that," said Winterbotham. "I think there is that natural rivalry regardless of if the teams have been close, but I feel like it's going to be a really good match. I have a lot of respect for their coach and that program.
"We know it will be fun on the day, but for now they're the second match of the weekend, so we're focusing all our energies on Auburn."