Storied men's tennis team finally nabs national title
Cavaliers become first ACC team to capture NCAA title
The scene seemed to be lifted directly from the hit comedy “Dodgeball,” when Ben Stiller’s character White Goodman appears to knock out Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) to win the Las Vegas dodgeball tournament. The arena goes silent. The announcer declares, “Average Joe’s has come all this way for nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Suddenly, a referee runs onto the court and calls a foot fault on White Goodman, giving loveable underdog “Average Joe’s Gymnasium” another chance at a championship. Vince Vaughn and company capitalize, and the treasure chest bearing their winnings has written on it the phrase “Deus Ex Machina,” meaning a fortuitous intervention that unexpectedly brings about a happy ending.
The Virginia men’s tennis team, after nine consecutive unsuccessful trips to the NCAA Tournament, finally broke through with a “Deus Ex Machina” moment of its own. Facing championship point in the NCAA title match against UCLA May 21, Virginia was given a shocking reprieve. Bruins’ junior Adrien Puget appeared to bury the clinching point, but the shot was disallowed after his foot made contact with the net on his follow through.
Sophomore Mitchell Frank then rallied from a 3-5 deficit against Puget in the decisive third set at No. 3 singles to give the Cavaliers their first NCAA title in program history. With the score even at deuce following Puget’s near winner, Frank broke Puget to take the game and put the match back on serve. Frank won the next three games in a row to complete the comeback and give Virginia (30-0) its first ever undefeated season.
The Cavaliers became the first ACC team to capture an NCAA men’s tennis championship and just the 14th different winner in the Tournament’s 67-year history.
The climactic match against the Bruins was just one of many memorable moments for the Cavaliers in 2013. Virginia won its 100th consecutive ACC match in a 7-0 victory against Clemson at Snyder Tennis Center April 12, becoming only the second team in any sport in conference history to post a triple-digit winning streak.
Additionally, the Cavaliers clinched their seventh consecutive ACC title with a 4-1 win against Wake Forest April 28. That victory extended their still-active conference winning streak to 106 matches and gave Virginia its ninth conference championship in 10 years.
Senior Jarmere Jenkins, who finished the season 42-6 overall, was named ITA National Player of the Year, NCAA Tournament MVP and finished the season ranked No. 1 nationally in singles and second overall in doubles. He also received the McKevlin award, which honors the ACC’s top male athlete of the year, becoming the fifth Cavalier to earn the distinction and the first since lacrosse standout Chris Rotelli in 2003.
Jenkins and freshman Mac Styslinger captured the doubles title May 27 against senior Chris Camillone and junior David Holiner of Texas, rallying from a first set loss for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory. Jenkins narrowly missed becoming the fourth winner of the NCAA Tennis Triple Crown since 1977, falling in the title match of the NCAA Singles Final against Ohio State junior Blaz Rola in straight sets.
This past season’s victories were even more satisfying in light of the end-of-season heartbreak in 2012. One day after Southern California stomped out the Cavaliers’ title hopes in the NCAA Championship match for the second consecutive year, Coach Brian Boland reasserted his commitment to the program in an open letter to Virginia fans. The 2008 ITA National Coach of the Year and 10-time conference coach of the year in 17 seasons at Virginia and Indiana State wrote, “we still have a lot of unfinished business,” adding that he was “extremely optimistic that one day we will experience what it is like to be national champions.”
While Virginia continued to dominate opponents on the court with ease in 2013, Boland preached the importance of getting better every day. Before the ACC Tournament, with Virginia unbeaten at 21-0, the coach said that all Cavalier players still needed to “try to find little ways to improve all the way to the end.”
Virginia players maintained exemplary focus and humility in the face of success. Days before the team earned its 100th consecutive ACC victory, Jenkins and other players were largely unaware of the approaching milestone.
“We just focus on one match at a time,” senior Julen Uriguen said prior to the milestone win. “We just have to keep doing the same thing.”
Nearly one year to the day after Virginia’s second setback against the Trojans, the Cavaliers fulfilled Boland’s aspirations. In the Championship match, Virginia captured the doubles point by winning at No. 1 and No. 3 to take a 1-0 lead. Junior Justin Shane gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 edge by winning in quick fashion at No. 5 singles, promptly dispatching Bruins junior Clay Thompson 6-2, 6-2. UCLA took the next two matches at No. 2 and No. 4 singles to even the score at 2-2.
Jenkins defeated Bruins sophomore Dennis Novikov in straight sets to regain the lead, 3-2. With a chance to secure the title, Uriguen squandered a first set victory to lose 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 at No. 6 singles, setting set up Frank’s fateful comeback at No. 3 singles.
Frank and Jenkins were named to the NCAA All-Tournament team for singles while the pairings of Jenkins and Styslinger at No. 1 and Shane and Uriguen at No. 3 earned the doubles honors.