Flash back to April 7, 2006. The Virginia men's tennis team entered the match that day against then-No. 14 Miami, riding a 24-match win streak in conference play dating back to 2004. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 8 in the country at the time, swept the doubles point - winning each match, 8-5, 8-6 and 8-2 - and entered singles play needing at least three wins to capture the overall victory. But Miami had a history of dismantling top opponents. At that point, the Hurricanes had defeated three other teams with higher rankings that year. Virginia only managed to pick up two singles wins, and Miami notched the upset, 4-3.
For the nearly five years since that match, the Cavaliers have not lost while playing at their home courts. Among teams currently ranked in the top 10, only No. 4 Ohio State has compiled a longer streak. The Buckeyes' last loss at home came in April of 2003 against Illinois, the No. 1-ranked team in the country at the time.
The top-ranked Cavaliers' matches this season have illustrated just how difficult it can be to maintain such a long streak. Virginia (6-0) toppled No. 16 Illinois, 7-0, in front of 712 fans at the Boar's Head Sports Club Jan. 21. The Cavalier Marching Band played during warm-ups and between singles and doubles matches. But against No. 66 Cornell Friday night, far fewer fans came, and the band was not in attendance, creating a noticeably quieter atmosphere.
"Every week is different," coach Brian Boland said after the Cornell match. "Last week, you sit in here, you're in this building on Friday, and it's packed and you get energy from the crowd. Now, you gotta create the energy yourself."
Virginia has yet to face a team this season as highly ranked as Miami was in 2006, but conference foes of both national-championship and cellar-dweller caliber are scheduled in the coming weeks. Before season's end, the Cavaliers will face Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, all of which are ranked in the top 30. This Friday, the Cavaliers will face Maryland, which is ranked significantly lower at No. 70.
Regardless of the opposing team's quality, Boland stressed after the match against Cornell, the Cavaliers need to approach each contest with the same hungry attitude.\n"You gotta be careful to realize that in competition, everybody has a chance," Boland said. "But when you're playing a team that's [No.] 60 in the country, you definitely overlook that, and that can be very dangerous."
Alex Domijan, the freshman standout who plays No. 2 singles for the Cavaliers, has rolled through his early matches. As the No. 3-ranked singles player in the country, Domijan has soundly beaten foes from No. 51 East Tennessee State, No. 66 Cornell and No. 16 Illinois while dropping only one set against an opponent from No. 36 Notre Dame.
Although Domijan and the rest of the Cavalier lineup has seldom been tested this year, he said he treats each match as though it were being played during the NCAA tournament, when the team has faced the likes of No. 2 Southern California. The Trojans ended the Cavaliers' title run during each of the past two seasons.
After the match against Cornell, Domijan credited the coaches for ensuring the team takes each competitor seriously.
"The coaches are keeping us focused," Domijan said. "On a match like this, you can lose focus pretty easily, but the coaches are keeping us in check."
Aside from defending their home court, the Cavaliers also have torn through their regular season schedule as of late. The Cavaliers won 63 matches in a row - including undefeated regular seasons in 2008 and 2009 - before falling to then-ranked No. 14 Kentucky Feb. 6 last year. The team has not lost a regular season match since.
Both Domijan and senior Michael Shabaz pointed to this Saturday's rematch against No. 12 Kentucky as a contest that may stretch the Cavalier lineup just as Miami did nearly five years ago.\n"Kentucky is good, so we're looking forward to the match," Shabaz said.