As they head to Atlanta today for their respective ACC Tournaments, the Virginia tennis teams face uphill battles in their challenges to the conference throne. Both the Cavalier men's and women's squads have hopes of shaking up the ACC hierarchies that have them in the middle of the conference pack.
The fourth-seeded Cav men (15-8, 5-3 ACC) need an impressive showing to improve their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth. They will face Florida State in the first round of the tournament tomorrow at 6 p.m. and will look for a repeat performance of their 4-3 win against the Seminoles March 26.
Virginia had high aspirations coming into this season, returning five of the six starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team. The Cavs got off to a quick start , catapulting to a No. 20 national ranking by winning their first seven matches. But they have been inconsistent at times - exemplified by disappointing losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and Virginia Tech - and have fallen out of the Top 25.
This weekend, Virginia hopes to push its way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. An impressive 6-1 home win against No. 16 North Carolina Saturday can only further the Cavalier case.
"Obviously if you win the [ACC] Tournament then you are in for sure," coach Dick Stockton said of the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the winner of the conference tournament. "Whether we can do that or not, who knows? I think we may be borderline, but the win over North Carolina is really going to help."
The main bright spot for Virginia has been the stellar play of Brian Vahaly, an Atlanta native. Vahaly, the nation's No. 5 player, wrapped up the regular season with a 30-4 record, including 8-0 in the ACC. He has been nearly untouchable this year, dropping only one set in conference play.
Fellow junior Huntley Montgomery (21-11), ranked 51st in the nation, has been a solid contributor at No. 2 singles. He and Vahaly are the nation's No. 23 doubles pair.
If the Cavaliers advance past Florida State, Duke likely will be their next foe. The No. 6 Blue Devils defeated the Cavs Sunday, 6-1, and ousted them in the ACC semifinals last year, 4-0, but Virginia will be conceding nothing if the two teams meet again this weekend.
"It would be nice if for once Duke didn't end up winning the ACC Championship," Vahaly said.
The sixth-seeded Cav women (13-9, 3-5), who open tomorrow at 9 p.m. against Clemson, face an even tougher road to the conference title. The ACC features five of the nation's top 30 teams, including No. 2 Wake Forest.
The Tigers, who barely missed grabbing the final spot in the Top 25 last week, upended the Cavs April 2 in Clemson, 5-4. Virginia has won only three of the 25 meetings between the two schools.