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Top-ranked tennis tussles with Duke, North Carolina

Whirlwind road stretch, top-heavy lineup prime Virginia for ACC season

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The No. 1 Virginia men’s tennis team played only five matches in the first half of its spring season, focusing instead on fitness and fundamentals, but still went 5-0 in the process. During a marathon spring break, however, the Cavaliers (11-0, 0-0 ACC) competed in four matches in six days and still went undefeated. Now Virginia looks to extend its dominance to conference play as it hosts No. 8 Duke and No. 70 North Carolina this weekend.

The Cavaliers last faced Duke (14-3, 2-0 ACC) in the quarterfinals of February’s ITA National Team Indoors in Seattle. Virginia blanked the Blue Devils 4-0 en route to a championship win against USC, but that result does not implicate a coasting against a talented conference rival.

“The numbers don’t really show how the match goes overall,” freshman Ryan Shane said. “It’s really not that easy, but we have pulled out a lot of good wins.”

It is impossible to ignore Virginia’s impressive lineup entering Friday’s match, one which surely ranks among the most talented coach Brian Boland has ever directed. Six Cavaliers are ranked and three are within the top-15. Junior Alex Domijan leads the pack at No. 1, followed by No. 5 senior Jarmere Jenkins and No. 12 freshman Mac Styslinger. No. 81 sophomore Mitchell Frank, current ACC Player of the Week, provides another consistent presence for the team and plays far beyond his rank.

Of course, these four comprise only a part of a roster that has the ability to defeat any other team in the nation. Eight of the Cavaliers’ wins have come against teams ranked in the top 20, and the team looks more confident than ever.

“I believe we’ve gotten better with each match,” Boland said. “Our doubles point continues to improve, each individual player has really picked up his game and I feel very good about the foundation we set in January as far as our fitness goes. I believe we have a lot of confidence going into our ACC opener against Duke.”

At No. 8, Duke has the next-best ranking of all schools in the conference to Virginia. With No. 10 senior Henrique Cunha leading five ranked Blue Devils, the Cavaliers are preparing for a battle.

“Duke is a very deep team,” Frank said. “They’re going to be tough, and they compete hard. I think we’ve had a lot of success against them in the past and have made them feel some pain out there, so we’re just going to try to execute and hopefully it goes well.”

The doubles point should prove an exciting start to Friday’s match, as Virginia has dropped the point only once this season and Duke just twice. In the teams’ last meeting, the squads split the first two doubles matches before a showdown on the first court between potentially the two best pairs in the country decided it. No. 2 Jenkins and Styslinger eventually clinched the point for the Cavaliers and will look for a repeat win against the Blue Devils’ top-ranked pair of Cunha and sophomore Raphael Hemmeler.

“It’s only one point but it really carries the momentum to singles,” Boland said, “Fortunately we have two teams that have played together for a couple years and had a tremendous amount of success, and of course Mac and Jarmere’s results speak for themselves. They’ve been extremely consistent for us, and they play great tennis together.”

After Duke, Virginia will face North Carolina (7-8, 0-2 ACC) Sunday. After starting the season ranked No. 18 and subsequently going 7-2, the Tar Heels have lost six consecutive matches. Four of their defeats come from top-20 teams, a stark contrast to Virginia’s eight wins against the same company. By all logic, Sunday figures to be a cakewalk for the Cavaliers, and though the team is confident they are certainly not overlooking their opponent.

“We don’t pay too much attention to the numbers,” Frank said. “We just go out and try to execute, but [defeating top 20 teams] definitely gives us a lot of confidence. Everyone feels pretty good about how they’re playing, so that’s very positive for us going forward.”

The match against Duke is the first of the USTA College MatchDay series, which will showcase top college teams and rivalries. Opening serves are at 3 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday.


Published March 21, 2013 in Sports

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