Vahaly establishes unprecedented mark

Brian Vahaly put Virginia tennis on the map by committing to the University when he was the No. 1 high school prospect in the country. Now he's moving the Cavaliers to the center stage.

The Atlanta native advanced to the final of the ITA Men's All-American Championships in Austin, Texas on Oct. 18 where he succumbed to K.J. Hippensteel of Stanford 6-1, 6-3. This match came on the heels of an impressive come from behind victory against Louisiana State's Michal Chmela.

Now ranked ninth by the ITA, Vahaly is almost assured of moving into the top five in the country when the new polls come out.

The All-American Tournament is the biggest college tournament in the fall, drawing all of the nation's elite players.

"No ACC player has ever advanced to the finals of this tournament," Athletic Director Terry Holland said. "That lets you know how spectacular of a performance it was."

After cruising to a semifinal match, Vahaly encountered early difficulty. Down a set and trailing in the second, Cavalier Coach Dick Stockton pulled him aside.

"Pretend we paid for this court for two hours and we want to get our money's worth," Stockton said. "How long can we keep going because the longer we go the more chance you have."

Vahaly proceeded to rally and earned a berth in the finals, winning 1-6, 6-4, 7-6.

"I lost the first set badly and was getting killed in the second set," Vahaly said. "I just kind of kept hanging in there for a while."

In the third set tiebreaker with Vahaly trailing 2-0, he charged back to win five of the last six points to win 7-4 and advance to the final.

"My coach told me at the end he [Chmela] was winning for two and a half hours of the match and I was ahead for five minutes and it ended up being the last five minutes," Vahaly said. "That was definitely one of my better days.

However, a combination of his epic semifinal duel and the outstanding play of Hippensteel proved too much for Vahaly in the final.

Hippensteel "was literally on fire, there wasn't much Brian could do," Stockton said.

Often playing three times a day between his singles and doubles matches was grueling on Vahaly but he had a support group to keep him going.

Vahaly was spurred on by 13 of his friends who came to Austin during their Fall Break. They'd wake up early in the morning to support their friend as he took on the nation's elite.

"They were really loud, it was great," Vahaly said. "They helped me through some of my early round matches. I just relaxed, had a great support system, and started playing better."

However, he wasn't the only Cavalier serving up an impressive performance; third-year Huntley Montgomery advanced to the finals of the backdraw. Montgomery posted an impressive victory over the tournament's No. 10 seed, Florida's Justin O'Neil 6-4, 7-6 to reach the finals. There he fell to Stanford's Geoff Abrams 6-4, 6-4. Vahaly and Montgomery teamed in doubles where they advanced to the quarterfinals.

"Both guys played very well," Stockton said. "I'm very proud of both of them."

"Huntley did a lot of good for himself," Vahaly said. "A lot of people are starting to realize we're going to be really tough this year."

With a team that only lost one player to graduation, the Cavs have big expectations this season. With the recent performances from Vahaly and Montgomery, the Cavaliers are poised for a breakthrough year.

"This makes a statement for Virginia tennis," Stockton said.

"Now we know we can beat the top teams and we expect to beat them," Vahaly said.

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