With the indoor season behind the team, the No. 15 Tennessee Volunteers tennis squad will look to find its form outdoors Sunday at home against No. 12 Georgia.
The Vols will open the official SEC season just two weeks after losing to No. 8 Texas A&M at the ITA National Indoor Tournament in Houston.
"To be quite honest, the indoor season is over," head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We feel like we have gone through that first part of the season. We're not really looking back. We're solely focused on the outdoor season and what's up next, and that's the SEC regular season."
With the change of setting to outdoors also comes a change back to traditional rules, which are used during the NCAA tournament.
Starting in January, the ITA used an experimental set of rules that were meant to shorten matches. Doubles matches were played up to six, instead of eight, and there was "no-ad" scoring in both singles and doubles, which meant that there was no advantage after a game was tied at 40-40.
"It's just a different game now," Winterbotham said. "I think that favors us."
One thing remains the same for Tennessee: the high quality of its opponents. Six of the last seven teams Tennessee has played are currently ranked in the top 25, and Georgia is no exception.
"They're a really good team," Winterbotham said. "Nothing has really changed from last year. I think their players have got a little better. So it's going to be a really fun, tough match."
Georgia was the preseason favorite to win the SEC after making it to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament last year. However, a difficult schedule combined with injuries has prevented them from living up to expectations.
The Bulldogs were winless in their three matches at the ITA tournament in Houston after being forced to concede points in two of their matches because they were unable to field enough players due to injury.
Georgia returned to full force in a 4-0 win in its last match against Georgia Tech, who Tennessee will play next at home Tuesday.
The road does not get any easier for Tennessee after Georgia. The SEC boasts seven of the top 20 ranked teams in the nation.
"Every match is a challenge," Winterbotham said. "Regardless of ranking, the SEC is a very strong conference in tennis. So you have to be ready for each match."
For the players, the start of the SEC season brings about an elevated level of excitement.
"We love it," Winterbotham said. "We recruit people that want to be in the SEC, and they want that challenge on a weekly basis.
"They don't want easy matches because you don't get any, and that's what's great about it."
Despite the high rankings of their opponents, Winterbotham said Tennessee still believes they can win the SEC. To accomplish that, each match takes on a higher importance, and the Vols can ill afford to slip up.
"We want to win the SEC in regular season," Winterbotham said. "We want to be the SEC champions. So to do that, typically, you go through undefeated, or maybe one loss. So we know that we've got to get out there and get off to a good start."