Virginia embraces underdog position, looks to dominate indoor tournament
Top 16 women's programs covert ITA National Team Indoor Championship title
This Friday, 16 of the country’s top women’s tennis programs will converge on the courts of Charlottesville’s Boar’s Head Sports Club. They will hail from such homes as Los Angeles, Durham, Tuscaloosa and College Station, and their individual players will represent an even wider territory. These entrants will compete during the weekend and into Monday, when one team will be emerge as the victor of the ITA National Team Indoor Championship.
The No. 12 Virginia (1-0, 0-0 ACC) women’s tennis team will not be nearly as road-weary as its peers. This tournament, which coach Mark Guilbeau likened to an early season version of May’s NCAA Championship, will be held on the Cavaliers’ home courts. Given the talent of Virginia’s first round opponent — the No. 4 University of Southern California Trojans (5-0, 0-0 Pacific 12) — Guilbeau recognizes the importance of familiarity and crowd support for his team.
“You know, their ranking may be higher than ours, but I definitely think you always benefit from being at home,” Guilbeau said. “And especially the indoor climate, so to speak, will likely favor us a bit, so I hope that can be a little positive for our kids and we can take advantage of it. They don’t get much of a chance to play indoors out there [in Southern California].”
The tournament schedule lists the start time for the Virginia-USC match at 3:30 p.m., but the exact start time will depend on when other matches finish. A delay of any length, however, will not diminish the Cavaliers’ eagerness to step onto the court to begin play in this highly anticipated tournament.
“Many of the players that I’ve coached and many of the teams that I’ve coached — some of our greatest memories and greatest experiences have come through the National Team Indoors,” Guilbeau said.
The tournament will be decided as much by stamina as by skill. Each of the 16 teams in the tournament rank among the top-21 teams in the nation, meaning the eventual winner will need the fortitude of body and mind to battle against equally talented opponents.
“You’ll learn a lot about your team from the standpoint of being able to bounce back,” Guilbeau said. “You know, whether it’s a win or a loss, being able to come back and repeat that kind of effort for three days minimum … So, there’s a lot of value in that. It can make you a lot stronger physically, mentally, emotionally — all across the board.”
The weekend will provide the youthful Cavaliers with valuable learning experience. In the team’s 5-2 dual match victory against No. 47 Virginia Commonwealth last week, three freshmen — No. 4 Julia Elbaba, No. 43 Stephanie Nauta, and Maci Epstein — competed at Nos. 1-3 singles. The trio will likely remain in the starting lineup this weekend when No. 44 junior Li Xi returns from illness.
“[I’m] just kind of gauging their excitement level and how much they’re appreciating the opportunity and looking forward to playing,” Guilbeau said. “So far that’s been pretty strong, especially from a young group.”
With a win against USC, the Cavaliers would play either No. 8 North Carolina or No. 13 Texas A&M Saturday at 3:30.
“You know, we’re underdogs in this one, but I think that we’re ready to give it a good shot,” Guilbeau said.