BLANK: Can men’s tennis maintain its dominance?
After Sunday night’s Super Bowl win by the New England Patriots, there was a lot of talk about if the Patriots are the greatest team of the modern era. Pundits claimed that a run like theirs could never be topped. You’ll have to forgive Virginia Men’s tennis coach Brian Boland, though, if he isn’t impressed.
Although Boland missed the NCAA tournament in his first two years on Grounds after being hired for the 2002 season, his teams have been in every tournament since. This isn’t even among his most impressive statistics. In this decade alone, the Cavaliers have made the semi finals every year without fail, and they boast three out of the past four national championships, along with a singles champion as well.
The total accolades for Boland’s teams are stunning. Over his 15 years in Charlottesville, Virginia has been No. 1 in nine different seasons, won 11 ACC Championships and featured 44 All-Americans, among other accomplishments. By almost any standard, Virginia men’s tennis is a powerhouse with a resume that can compete with almost any other team in college sports.
The Cavaliers have the potential to run the table again this season, as the No. 1 team in the country has started off the season 3-0 despite two close calls to start the year. However, maintaining the unprecedented level of success of the past several seasons is no small task. For the first time since 2011, they will have to try and win a championship without either Mitchell Frank or Ryan Shane, mainstays from prior championship teams.
Instead, Virginia has to find a new set of leaders, as all dynasties must, in order to stay on top. Due to the breadth of championship experience that exists on the roster, there is no shortage of options.
Perhaps the most enticing option is senior Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. The double legacy and McIntire student came to Virginia in 2013 as the No.1 recruit in the nation, and he has lived up to his billing.
Kwiatkowski has been an Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles All-American in each of the past two seasons, and he is one of only four players ever to win their singles and doubles tournament in the same season. He also advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 NCAA singles tournament and was named the most outstanding player of the 2016 championship before winning his first professional title later in the summer.
While his on-court achievements are impressive, Kwiatkowski’s off-court honors are equally numerous. Kwiatkowski serves as member of the Student Athlete Mentor Council, was named the ACC Men’s Tennis Scholar Athlete of the Year and received The Downing Family Endowed Tennis and Leadership Scholarship in 2016. Both on- and off-the-court, the senior represents the model of the kind of player Cavalier fans should want leading Virginia’s attempt at a third-straight title.
While tennis is at times a sport played alone, Kwiatkowski won’t be able to lead Virginia to a team championship by himself. Junior Collin Altamirano — who went into the fall as the No. 19 ITA singles player — and senior JC Aragone — owner of the 2015 ACC tournament MVP trophy and an 82-18 career singles record — are well suited to provide support.
However, looking forward, Virginia features an upperclassmen heavy roster, touting zero sophomores and only three freshmen. What they lack in depth, the Cavaliers make up for in impact however, as freshman Carl Söderlund comes in as the ITA’s No. 1 newcomer. Additionally, he has started off the season undefeated.
In any sport, it is near impossible to keep up the kind of run Virginia tennis has been on, and this season is no exception. Unlike the undefeated 2013 champions, last year’s team overcame numerous stumbles — including a loss in the ACC tournament — to win the title. This year’s team will have to overcome some of those hurdles without the familiar faces at the top.
However, with Boland’s track record and the talent currently on the roster, the men’s tennis team is well suited to give it a try. Cavalier fans should enjoy the ride — programs on runs as impressive as Boland’s are truly rare.
Jake Blank is a weekly Sports columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Jake_33.