No. 12 men’s tennis prepares for first real regular season test

Freshman-heavy Cavalier tennis program prepares to take on No. 25 Texas Tech

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Junior Aswin Lizen is one of three returning players from last season.

Callie Collins | Cavalier Daily

May 23, 2017 was a rainy day in Athens, Ga. The NCAA National Championship match, between the No. 2 Virginia men’s tennis team and No. 9 North Carolina, was pushed back for the second-consecutive day. Relegated inside to the four inside courts of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, the championship match progressed more slowly than most do, which only amplified the excruciating pressure on the players. 

On doubles court 2, then-seniors Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Alexander Ritschard defeated the opposing Tar Heels in a titanic struggle, winning their match 7-6. This win would prove to be instrumental in the Cavaliers’ national championship victory, capping an era of unprecedented dominance by a Virginia team that only six years ago had yet to win a single title. By that muggy Georgia afternoon, however, they won their fourth. 

But the team that is now practicing at Virginia’s Sheridan-Snyder Tennis Center is entirely different from the one that was there just one year ago. Gone is the senior core that ran amok over the traditional tennis powerhouses of the NCAA. Gone as well is Coach Brian Boland, who retired last season after 16 years with the Cavaliers to become the UTSA Player Development Head of Men’s Tennis. 

Only three players have returned from the championship season last year — sophomore Carl Söderlund, junior Aswin Lizen, and senior Henrik Wiersholm. The rest of the team, while incredibly talented, is as of yet untested. But with this inexperience also comes a blank slate. For the first time in years, a Virginia tennis team has its destiny in its own hands. 

The first real mark on this slate will come Saturday as the Cavaliers prepare to host the No. 25 Texas Tech Red Raiders (9-1). Texas Tech has had an excellent showing so far this season. The Red Raiders’ only loss of the season, at a neutral site against No. 20 Florida State (8-0), was eight games ago, and they have only had one game since then that was decided by a single match. However, most of these victories have come at home and against non-Power 5 teams. 

Texas Tech is led by a group of experienced juniors, including Alex Sendegeya, who was ranked No. 83 nationally by the International Tennis Association in singles play at the beginning of the fall last year. Sendegeya, in addition to an incredible set of doubles teams, could cause major problems for the Cavaliers on Saturday. Second-year head coach Brett Masi was named Big 12 coach of the year after leading the Red Raiders out of obscurity and winning the Big 12 conference championship in his first year as a head coach.

Virginia’s own head coach, Andres Pedroso, returns to the Cavaliers after a two year hiatus from the program. From 2010-2014, however, he served as assistant head coach for Virginia with an incredible record of success. In his four year tenure, he did not lose a single conference match and was named the ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2014. 

He inherits a team that, although young, has an incredible potential. Freshman Gianni Ross, from Chicago, Ill., was ranked as the second best recruit in the Class of 2017. Freshman Matthew Lord, from Bloomfield, Conn., was ranked sixth. 

Victories over the Richmond (0-1) and Temple (1-1) this weekend have given coach Pedroso a perfect record so far, but both were closer than expected with Virginia only winning 4-3. This could be an early warning sign for the program, but it could also just be a slow opening weekend for a program laden with players still new to the college level of play. 

There are good signs coming out of the weekend, though, with junior Aswin Lizen and freshman Kyrylo Tsygura distinguishing themselves in both singles and doubles. Lizen and Tsygura both won their individual singles matches as well as combining to win their doubles matches against both Richmond and Temple, providing six of the eight total match victories achieved by the Cavaliers this weekend. 

On the No. 5 court, Tsygura’s singles matches twice clinched the game match for the Cavaliers, demonstrating an incredible amount of mental fortitude by the freshman. For Virginia to win next weekend, however, Tsygura and Lizen, as well as the rest of the Cavaliers, will have to play even stronger.

The match will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville. 

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