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Sizzling squad faces stern homecourt tests

ACC title contenders Duke, North Carolina arrive looking to end Cavs' hot start

The No. 8 Virginia women's tennis team may harbor national aspirations, but the Cavaliers face one of their biggest tests of the season this weekend with matches against a pair of ACC rivals, No. 5 Duke and No. 11 North Carolina.

"We're not trying to make this any bigger than what we've already faced, but at the same time, you're taking steps to have your team be a little more engaged and more focused," coach Mark Guilbeau said. "It's the next phase for this team as we go into the heart of our ACC schedule."

The Cavaliers (12-2, 3-0 ACC) enter the weekend on the heels of a six-game winning streak after taking down Maryland and William & Mary last weekend. The team was not as sharp as players would have liked against Maryland in doubles, but it bounced back from losing the doubles point to grab a 4-3 win.

"We weren't exactly ourselves against Maryland, but long-term that's going to help our fitness level and our mental toughness [knowing] the fact that we could pull out a win, maybe not at 100 percent," junior Erin Vierra said.

That mental fortitude will be paramount this weekend as the Cavaliers take on opponents who will push Virginia for each and every point. The doubles point has been a troubling one at times for the Cavaliers, but their preparation this week focused on technical changes as well as mental ones in an attempt to correct flaws.

"They know that we've got to step it up," Guilbeau said. "What I'm trying to instill is that they can do these things. These things are there. They just have to be willing to implement them. Sometimes we leave these in the bag, but we can't do that."

Today's opponent, Duke (13-2, 2-0 ACC), comes into the weekend off of a sizzling start to the season. The Blue Devils' only losses have been against the two top teams in the nation, UCLA and Florida. Six Duke players are nationally ranked, including freshman phenomenon Beatrice Capra, who is No. 2 in the ITA rankings. She will most likely face No. 15 senior Emily Fraser, who went 1-1 last weekend at first singles.

"We know Duke and UNC a little bit," Guilbeau said. "You always look at the individual opponents, and you don't know for sure the lineups, but you plan, and you focus on patterns to some things we think we'll see."

The Cavaliers will not get any relief Sunday when they face North Carolina (12-4, 2-0 ACC) for the weekend finale. The Tar Heels enter as winners of seven straight games, including a big 4-3 victory last weekend against No. 20 Michigan. No. 33 junior Zoe de Bruycker has led the team with some critical wins at first singles during the streak. On the doubles courts, the No. 13 tandem of senior Shinann Featherston and junior Lauren McHale will most likely meet Virginia's No. 16 duo of sophomore Li Xi and Fraser.

The Cavaliers are wary of the danger which goes with playing two high-caliber opponents in a row, but they also believe they can take advantage of the home court to gain an edge on the competition.

"I think everybody here knows that there's a good rivalry against UNC and Duke," Vierra said. "Especially in the last couple years I've been here, we've had really competitive matches with these teams so it means a lot for the fans to come out and really get behind us. I think this is a year we can really do a lot of damage in the ACC and really take it to them this weekend."

The action starts 3 p.m. today at the Snyder Tennis Courts and continues noon Sunday.