After faltering in its final indoor games, the No. 12 Virginia women's tennis team this weekend leaves the comfort of Boar's Head to travel to Montgomery, AL for the Blue-Gray Classic. The team looks to create some momentum and find consistency as it takes on unranked Auburn in the first round.
In their three matches at the National Team Indoors, the Cavaliers (6-2) started strong by securing the doubles point in each match. But they did not sustain their momentum, losing two early doubles matches to No. 9 Northwestern and No. 8 Baylor.
"It's the same process that we recognized early in the dual match season," coach Mark Guilbeau said. "Our doubles wasn't quite what we were hoping for so we made some adjustments and focused on it a little more. We're doing the same thing with the singles."
The Cavaliers have shown they can take on some of the best teams in the nation with great success. The players know reinforcing fundamentals of the game is the key to continuing a high level of play.
"I think it's just controlling the things we can control, and preparing ourselves," No. 94 sophomore Li Xi said.
Technique is crucial as the team makes the important transition from indoor play to the outdoor courts. The weather influences the style of play necessary to compete, so the team needs to prepare for all the conditions they could experience on the court.
"Typically on the tennis court, the wind is normally going to blow in one direction or the other, so you have to be very alert to that, and you have to practice in it and make sure our players are switching ends and getting used to both sides of that," Guilbeau said. "The way I try to coach is that the conditions are there for both players, and you can choose to make it a positive for you or the other way around, and we really do a good job with it."
Virginia faces fresh foes as well as new surroundings, hitting Auburn (4-1, 0-0 SEC), followed by either No. 33 Arizona (5-2, 0-0 Pac 12) or No. 56 SMU (0-4, 0-0 C-USA). The team is doing its best to prepare itself to avoid any surprises this weekend.
"We do see these players - maybe not the entire team - but the individual players at tournaments," Guilbeau said. "Something we do a very thorough job of is really trying to pay attention to every player out there, every team, so that way you know as much as you possibly can."
Virginia also participated in the Blue-Gray Classic last year, winning its first two matches against DePaul and Ohio State but dropping its final match to Notre Dame 4-0.
Virginia's first opponent, Auburn, enters the tournament as the in-state favorite. The Tigers are riding a successful start to the season, winning four of their first five games. Freshman Emily Flickenger leads the team at first singles and is 3-2 so far this season. She will most likely come up against No. 21 Virginia senior Emily Fraser, who is 6-1 at first singles.
Auburn has no nationally ranked players but is used to competing outdoors. They have taken advantage of the warm southern weather, playing all of their matches outside this season.
Despite potential pitfalls, the Cavalier players are confident they can manage a strong showing this weekend.
"I'm not going to worry about how other teams are going to play," Xi said. "I'm going to play how I play."