Men's tennis squad eyes championship, not current No. 1 ranking
Talented team mixes veteran leadership, formidable freshman trio
With this year’s Virginia men’s tennis team, it is tempting to talk about numbers: the team’s No. 1 ranking; the top-10 ITA singles rankings of junior Alex Domijan, senior Jarmere Jenkins and freshman Mac Styslinger; and the top-10 ITA doubles rankings of three Virginia pairs. Ask senior Julen Uriguen about the rankings, though, and the truth becomes apparent: Such numbers do not matter much to this team.
“Obviously, it’s a great thing that we’re No. 1 in the country, but it doesn’t mean that the job’s done yet,” Uriguen said. “We’re all basically focusing on May, and that’s our main goal. We’re working hard towards May and not really focusing on the rankings but just focusing first on developing our players and then taking it one match at a time.”
This Friday and Saturday present the Cavaliers with the chance to kick off their march to May, when the NCAA championships take place in Urbana, Ill. The team hosts No. 63 North Florida, No. 55 Arkansas and No. 62 Georgia State in its four-team ITA Kickoff Weekend tournament at the Boar’s Head Sports Club’s Boyd Tinsley Tennis Courts.
Virginia faces North Florida in the opening day’s evening match, which begins at 6 p.m. The victor advances to Saturday’s 6 p.m. final. The winner of Saturday’s contest qualifies for the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Seattle next month.
“We’re very excited to play our first dual match of the year on Friday,” Uriguen said. “I think we’ve been working really hard this semester, also last semester, to get ready for the start of the season.”
Virginia’s preparation for the spring season was not the kind coach Brian Boland customarily employs. The Cavaliers made a conscious decision to grow as a team this winter, and they sacrificed match play to do so. The team’s emphasis on togetherness and season-long improvement is one reason for its relative indifference to numbers. Those numbers include each player’s position on the Virginia ladder.
“The most important aspect [of this weekend] is that the guys are going to get into competitive matches whether they play one singles or eight singles,” Boland said. “I just think the lineup at this point is really insignificant. And I know the players see it the same way.”
On a team with so much talent and depth — the tandem of Uriguen and junior Justin Shane, for example, ranked No. 9 in the ITA doubles rankings, is only third-highest on the Cavaliers — egos are not an issue. Virginia’s veterans and newcomers alike believe being a cohesive unit matters more than a January ranking. The team’s mentality aids each player’s individual achievements. Take the early success of freshmen Styslinger, Ryan Shane and Harrison Richmond, for example.
“The older players are trying to be the best example they can for the younger players, but I think our team chemistry is really good this year,” Uriguen said. “We all get along really well, and the fact that we have three freshmen ranked in the top 50 [Richmond is technically No. 55] is a great accomplishment for them, and it’s also a great accomplishment for the team. It shows that we’re working hard.”
This week, the Cavaliers elected Jenkins, Domijan, and Uriguen as team captains. Statistics support the team’s choices. Domijan and Jenkins are No. 2 and No. 4 in the ITA singles rankings, respectively, after each winning a major fall tournament. Domijan captured the ITA All-American Championship, and Jenkins claimed the ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championship.
All three are part of a highly touted doubles pairing. Jenkins and Styslinger are No. 4 in the ITA rankings, and Domijan and Richmond check in at No. 8. Uriguen, in addition to his high doubles ranking, is in his third season as a Virginia starter. The three were named captains because of more than accolades, however.
“Their peers selected them as captains,” Boland said. “The decision was made by the team, so it’s a great honor for those guys. This is Jarmere’s second year as being team captain, which has only been done one other time in Virginia tennis history. I think that’s a really positive reflection on Jarmere and the leader that he’s become in his time at Virginia.”
The Cavaliers’ much-anticipated season begins Friday. The road to May, at present, goes through North Florida. With a win, the road will bend toward Arkansas or Georgia State Saturday. Another victory at Boar’s Head Saturday evening earns Virginia a ticket to Seattle.
“Great way to start the season, and I have a lot of respect for all the teams coming in,” Boland said. “It will be challenging no matter what.”