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Team to tackle tough trifecta

Squad faces Texas, Florida , Texas A&M on three consecutive days; hopes for hat-trick

The No. 2 Virginia men's tennis team plays a series of three dual matches in Charlottesville this weekend after months of fall tournament play. This three-day home stretch could prove one of the toughest in Virginia tennis history, as each team the Cavaliers faces is ranked in the top 20 nationally.

"It's our first time that we've had this tough of a weekend," junior Jarmere Jenkins said. "I think coach is just trying to put us in difficult situations early on so we can get to the NCAA tournament and ACCs [so], you know, it's a breeze because we've been there before."

Virginia opens the weekend tonight against the No. 15 Texas Longhorns, followed by the No. 5 Florida Gators Saturday, and finishing off with the No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies Sunday.

Virginia faces four players ranked in the top 100 nationally and a doubles team from Florida which checks in at No. 4.

After years of falling short in the NCAA tournament, coach Brian Boland thinks taking the team out of its comfort zone early on could be a game-changer as the season progresses.

"We obviously have a huge challenge this weekend," Boland said. "One of the things we wanted to do this year is be challenged. Over the years we've come just short of winning the NCAA title, and I think one of things I wanted to do a little bit differently this year is make our team as uncomfortable as possible and be challenged as much we possibly can. And I think we're doing a good job of that."

The Cavaliers opened their spring season two weeks ago against then-No. 46 South Florida, breezing to an 8-1 win. Freshman Mitchell Frank, who is the top-ranked singles player in the country playing No. 3 singles for the Cavaliers, had an especially strong showing. Frank, the winner of the ITA All-American and ITA Indoor singles championships, conceded only two games in his straight-set win against South Florida junior Juan Carlos Acuna Gerard.

"He transitioned, obviously, extremely well into the environment and really improved throughout the fall," Boland said. "I know he's enjoying his experience, and his teammates have embraced him."

The Virginia team is characterized by its young talent, including Frank and sophomores Alex Domijan and No. 57 Justin Shane. No. 11 Jenkins, who has a 68-16 career singles record and two All-ACC selections under his belt, seems to have emerged as a leader. Jenkins' experience and leadership earned him the No. 1 singles slot for the South Florida match.

"I just try to set examples in the weight room and off the court," Jenkins said. "And then at least on the court, taking care of the small things ... then guys like Justin Shane and Mitchell Frank see that, and it helps their game as well."

Texas (4-0) comes into Charlottesville today with three victories already against top-50 teams this season.

Florida (3-0) is the toughest team Virginia faces this weekend. The Gators picked up a quality win against then-No. 5 Baylor by a 6-1 margin. Virginia finishes the weekend squaring off with Texas A&M (4-0), who is coming off an emotional 4-3 win last Sunday against Mississippi State, which set the school's all-time record for a home winning streak.

Thanks to their strong starts, all three of the Cavaliers' upcoming opponents have earned automatic bids to the ITA Indoor Team Championship, which will be held in Charlottesville Feb. 17-20.

The Cavaliers qualified automatically as the defending champions.

"All across the board there's a tremendous amount of depth with those teams," Boland said. "They're going to pose some challenges for us, and we want that. We certainly want to be challenged throughout the weekend. If we're not, I feel like we haven't pushed ourselves enough."

Virginia has its own record winning streak at home, which stands at 89 games. That streak will be threatened during the next three days.

The Texas match begins at 6 tonight, and the Florida and Texas A&M matches start at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, respectively. All three matches will be held at the Boar's Head Sports Club.


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