Top-seed Virginia preps for start of ACCs
Will face winner of Thursday match between Miami, Florida State
The No. 4 Virginia men’s tennis team begins its postseason in Cary, North Carolina this weekend at the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers have won the tournament title nine out of the last 10 years — with 2006 as the lone exception when the team fell to then-No. 3 Duke in the Finals, 4-3.
Virginia (20-2, 11-0 ACC) is riding an 11-match winning streak, downing three top-25 and nine ACC teams on the way. The Cavaliers’ two losses this season came at the hands of No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 UCLA, both by 4-3 margins after coming down to dramatic tie break points in third sets. Against the Buckeyes, No. 115 freshman Thai-Son Kwiatkowski fell to junior Kevin Metka in a match that had all three sets go to tie breaks, while No. 14 senior Alex Domijan dropped the decisive point against the Bruins, marking the last match he’s lost.
“I think we turned those [losses] into positives,” coach Brian Boland said. “It all comes down to how you manage those close matches and losses as to what you get out of it. I believe this team has done a tremendous job of dealing with adversity and managing close matches in terms what we learned and gained from it.”
For the Cavaliers, the switch from dual matches to tournament style-play for the postseason does not require much of an adjustment.
“We approach the tournament maybe a little bit differently,” Boland said. “There is not a whole lot of difference in terms of our approach and how we go about preparing for our weekends.”
As the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Virginia has a bye through the first round and will play the winner of No. 30 Florida State and No. 53 Miami. The Cavaliers took down the Seminoles (17-10, 5-6 ACC) and the Hurricanes (14-10, 4-7 ACC) by scores of 6-1 and 7-0, respectively. Every team in the field will be looking to knock off a Virginia program what has dominated the conference in the past decade.
“Playing the same guys again, it takes a little bit more mental strength,” Domijan said. “The other guys will know us [and] they will be more comfortable facing a top-ranked team. I think when you are defending champions, you have a target on your back.”
The ACC tournament boasts seven teams ranked in the top-30 nationally. North Carolina and Duke enter at No. 9 and No. 11, respectively, with Notre Dame only a few spots behind at No. 13. But none these teams were able to score more than one point against the Cavaliers. Virginia’s 6-1 win against the Fighting Irish was responsible for the formation of the team’s most consistent doubles pair, Domijan and sophomore Harrison Richmond, who are undefeated together this year.
“I think we play well together, we always have,” Domijan said. “And this year they put us together as a last [minute] thing against Notre Dame and we sort of continued that. I think we complement each other. I think he’s a little better at net. He has really good hands. He brings a lot of tools to the table that I don’t.”
Richmond’s play in doubles has been critical as Virginia looks to solidify its lineup heading into the postseason. At the start of the season, he was selected to be an assistant captain — the first sophomore in team history to receive the honor. Boland believes Richmond’s contribution to the team goes far beyond the impact he has had as anchor on the doubles side.
“I think Harrison’s doubles skills and overall leadership over the course of the past few weeks have been tremendous assets for our program,” Boland said. “He’s really improved this last semester and he’s overcome a great deal. He’s playing the best tennis since he’s arrived at Virginia. I expect Harrison to be a leader for us not only the remainder of this year, but the future of our program is very much determined on the leadership he provides now and in the future.”
Virginia’s first match in the ACC tournament will take place at 9 a.m. Friday.