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Team sweeps matches

Virginia crushes Illinois, Notre Dame, Eastern Kentucky in weekend homestand

Against No. 16 Illinois Friday night, junior Drew Courtney and senior Michael Shabaz served lights out. The No. 3-ranked double squad in the country found impossible angles out wide and rocketed balls up the middle with regularity. On one particularly impressive series, the 6-foot-5 Courtney flung three consecutive aces past the Illinois duo of junior Dennis Nevolo and senior Johnny Hamui while serving at 3-3. But even as Shabaz and Courtney were impenetrable on their own serve, the Illini came up with just enough to deny Virginia a chance to break. The match appeared destined for a tiebreaker.

There, Courtney and Shabaz sprung out to a quick 5-0 lead. They never looked back and secured the doubles point with a 9-8 (2) win for the top-ranked Cavalier men's tennis team (4-0) during the squad's 7-0 victory before 712 fans at the Boar's Head Sports Club.

"Even though they were holding, we were getting through our service games pretty easily, so we felt like we had the advantage going through to the tiebreaker," Shabaz said. "And I told Drew to just relax and keep doing what we're doing. We're gonna get some looks because with the way we were serving we felt really comfortable. We got off to a good start, and luckily it went our way."

The win against Illinois (0-1) was the Cavaliers' first of three victories during the weekend. They defeated No. 36 Notre Dame, 9-1, Sunday afternoon and Eastern Kentucky, 9-0, Sunday evening. Virginia played an alternative scoring method against both Notre Dame (1-1) and Eastern Kentucky (2-2), and its only loss against the Irish came at the No. 7 singles position, where sophomore Julen Uriguen fell, 7-6 (3), 6-4. The Cavaliers shuffled their lineup against Eastern Kentucky, allowing Michael Shabaz and Alex Domijan to rest during singles play.

After the Illinois match, coach Brian Boland said he was impressed with his team's performance.

"I thought [the win] exceeded our expectations this early in the season," Boland said. "We have a lot to improve on, but I believe that the guys came out and played well in a tremendous environment. Illinois is a great team, and certainly this is their first dual match so we probably didn't get their best tonight. I think they're going to be a team down the road, late in the season, that's going to be a contender."

Senior Sanam Singh, who didn't drop a game during the Cavaliers' victory against William & Mary Tuesday night, played two close sets against Illinois senior Abe Souza at No. 3 singles. He earned an early break to win the first set, 6-4, and found a break in the second on an Illinois error at 3-3. Singh followed a similar path to victory against Notre Dame Sunday, going up a break early in the first set, then earning a decisive break in the second to win, 6-3, 6-4.

Sophomore Jarmere Jenkins played two close three-set matches against Illinois and Notre Dame, dropping the first set in each of his contests before winning the next two. Against Illinois, Jenkins split sets with sophomore Stephen Hoh and found himself facing double break point while serving at 2-3 in the third. Jenkins served big and out-hit Hoh to hold serve, and the match quickly turned in his favor. Hoh dumped a forehand into the net to lose serve at 3-3 and committed a series of errors toward the end of the match while Jenkins swung freely and never missed his mark.

"He really was in good physical shape throughout the course of the entire match," Boland said afterward. "I didn't feel like he lost his energy throughout."

Jenkins was unable to practice during November and December because of illnesses, Boland said, and has spent January recovering and returning to form. Boland said he expects Jenkins, the 19th-ranked singles player in the country, to improve as the season progresses.

"He's worked really hard, he's done it the right way, he's definitely put his time in once he got healthy," Boland said. "Now it's just getting back into his rhythm. He's not playing as well as he's capable of. His timing's a little off, but that's just from a lack of match play."

The Cavaliers will face No. 65 Cornell Friday night at the Boar's Head Sports Club during the first match of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend tournament. No. 50 Binghamton and No. 51 East Tennessee State will be competing as well. The Cavaliers' Friday match starts at 6 p.m.