Virginia takes on Virginia Commonwealth
No. 12 plays first spring dual match in Richmond; former player hopes to coach team to victory
When the No. 12 Virginia women’s tennis team welcomed Emily Fraser to its coaching staff as a volunteer assistant last Friday, the Cavaliers ensured that the recently-graduated standout’s positive contributions to the program would not end with her playing days. Fraser, who finished her career in 2012 with the second-most match wins in Virginia history for both singles and doubles play, is familiar with the pressure of tight competition and the physical and mental toll that the full season can take on players.
Such experience should prove especially valuable to the Cavaliers at this juncture of the year. Virginia plays its first dual match of the spring this Friday, taking on No. 47 Virginia Commonwealth at 3 p.m. in Richmond.
“I know that we’re all very open to learning from each other, and Emily has done a great job to help us immediately,” Virginia coach Mark Guilbeau said. “She’s really undertaking every role as a coach in terms of the on-court practicing, the individual workouts, the match-day coaching, so it’s a great role, and we’re really happy and fortunate to have her joining us.”
Virginia will need to channel Fraser’s competitive know-how in its match against the Rams (5-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10). Though VCU’s roster includes only one player ranked in the ITA singles’ top 125 — sophomore Salome Kvitashvili at No. 46 — the Rams have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the past seven years. The team won the Colonial Athletic Association championship in 2010 and 2012 before moving to the Atlantic 10 this season.
“They’re a really well-coached program that fights hard, especially against Virginia,” Guilbeau said. “Hopefully it works both ways, but certainly against Virginia, VCU gives absolutely an incredible effort every time, and it’s a really good battle.”
Given the way the season has unfolded to date, effort should not be an issue for the Cavaliers either. When Guilbeau was forced to briefly leave the team due a family emergency, the remaining Cavaliers kept their focus. Their intensity did not waver in the practices led by Fraser and assistant coach Troy Porco.
“We’re really excited to be able to watch them,” Guilbeau said. “They’ve been working hard… So special credit to Troy and Emily for keeping things going.”
Credit is also due to the Virginia players. The group includes three top-50 singles players and two top-10 doubles teams among its ranks. Two weeks ago, No. 4 freshman Julia Elbaba earned ACC Player of the Week honors following her performance at the U.Va. Winter Invitational where she was undefeated in doubles play and captured a share of the tournament’s singles title. The Cavaliers, however, know that individual performances are only significant in terms of greater context of the team.
“We’re talking a lot about committing to each other and making sure that this team makes that last step in terms of the ownership and accountability towards each other,” Guilbeau said. “To know that they’re all going to be individually out there playing their absolute hardest and trying to do the best they can mentally, physically and emotionally.”
The coach is pleased with what he has witnessed thus far. As for the players, they’re ready to show their progress and mental toughness on the court this Friday in Richmond.
“I think the team likes to compete,” Guilbeau said. “They’re very hungry.”