Women's Tennis opens season in Williamsburg
Elbaba, Collins lead talented Cavalier squad looking to improve upon 2013 results
The No. 13 Virginia women’s tennis team kicks off the spring season Wednesday with a showdown against in-state foe No. 40 William & Mary, a match that will see seven players ranked in the top 100 in the country square off. The two squads already know each other well, as several of the athletes clashed at the Tribe Invitational during the fall season.
The Cavaliers fared well in their trip to Williamsburg in the fall, with sophomores Julia Elbaba and Danielle Collins winning singles titles in their respective brackets, and Elbaba — along with freshman partner Rachel Pierson — claiming a doubles title as well.
Four Cavaliers competed in their bracket’s finals, with Pierson not falling until she met Elbaba, and senior Caryssa Peretz retiring in her match to earn second place. The Cavaliers dropped just one match to a William & Mary (0-1) athlete, signalling a strong performance for season opener.
“We feel great with coming into the year with how well we did in the fall,” Elbaba said. “But, you’re starting fresh in the spring, so you really have to bring it every match.”
Despite the Cavaliers’ overwhelming success in this individual tournament, Virginia recognizes that an entirely different and unique set of challenges is present in the spring season, as individual competition is replaced with team play. The seeding format that governs NCAA team competition ensures that the best athletes are pitted against one another.
“The difference between the fall and spring seasons is night and day,” coach Mark Guilbeau said. “The best schools are the ones that are able to thrive in the team environment, and that’s what these dual matches are all about. We have the type of kids that are most inspired and motivated by team matches, which is great.”
Wednesday’s match will likely be decided by the top court, which will see Elbaba, the nation’s No. 11 singles player, duel with Tribe veteran senior Jeltje Loomans, No. 54 nationally. The Cavaliers boast three other ranked players, with Collins at No. 28, and Pierson and sophomore Stephanie Nauta at No. 43 and No. 85, respectively, giving them the apparent edge in singles play.
Capturing the opening doubles point often gives a team a big advantage. In this area, the Tribe have the edge with the No. 6 tandem in the country on their side. But Virginia will field a talented team as well, as the Elbaba-Collins pairing ranks as the No. 8 duo in the nation, and should provide a tough challenge at first doubles.
“Rachel [Pierson] and I actually beat their top team in the fall, so I think we’re up to the challenge and hopefully we can win again,” Elbaba said.
The Tribe may also benefit from the fact that they opened their season against No. 10 Duke Sunday. Although the Tribe fell 6-1 to the Blue Devils, they likely shook off some offseason rust and had the opportunity to adjust to the spring season format — obstacles that the Cavaliers must overcome Wednesday.
“We came back to Charlottesville five days early to train with the team and to get started on the right foot,” Elbaba said. “We all worked very hard over break, so I feel we are well prepared for the match tomorrow.”
The Cavaliers return five starters from last year’s record-breaking squad that went to the NCAA Round of 16. In 2013’s impressive campaign, Virginia faced plenty of adversity, including early season losses to inferior opponents and a crucial injury to star then-freshman Maci Epstein.
“I think the team, especially the young kids, learned a lot last year,” Guilbeau said. “There is a certain level of readiness that is required when you play great teams as a college athlete. They have used that knowledge from last year to keep them going and do a good job.”
The match is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. in Williamsburg, Va.