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Cavs host Sooners

Tennis returns after winning ITA National Team Indoors

The No. 1 Virginia men’s tennis team has become one of the nation’s preeminent forces during the past several seasons. Head coach Brian Boland’s record with the team stands at an astounding 309-44, and he has led the team to six straight ACC titles and nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Currently, the Cavaliers boast three ITA top-10 singles players, including No. 1 junior Alex Domijan, and two more top-10 doubles pairs. Despite the impressive resume, though, the team has yet to win the NCAA National Championship.

After winning the ITA National Team Indoors in February, Boland and Virginia (6-0) will host No. 5 Oklahoma (8-2) Sunday in their first action since the ITA finals, a match that could serve as an indicator for the future of a team that hopes to build upon the successes — and failures — of the past.

“I’ve always just thought it was a dangerous road to go down to try to define yourself as a coach or program based on whether you win a National Championship because I don’t believe you really have control over that,” Boland said. “I think what you have control over is putting yourself in the position of having a chance to win a national championship, and that’s what we’re trying to do every single day.”

Boland has placed a new emphasis on fitness and fundamentals instead of match play this season, and it seems to be working. The Cavaliers have only played six matches so far but won every one.

“It’s the best thing we could be doing for the end of the year,” Domijan said. “We’re all going to be tougher physically and mentally. Whether we’re 32-0 or 22-0 at the end of the year doesn’t really matter as long as we win that last match, and I think we’re giving ourselves the best chance [to do so].”

The most recent of those six wins was the ITA finals match against perennial rival Southern California. The second-ranked Trojans defeated the Cavaliers in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA finals and have ended the Cavaliers’ season every year since 2009, rendering the victory one of no small consequence for Virginia.

“It was a great step for us to beat USC because we’ve struggled so much against them the last several years,” Boland said. “I think that it will help us mentally as we move forward in the season.”

Virginia opened the ITA Team Indoors by plastering Washington and then-No. 9 Duke 4-0 in each match. Then-No. 4 Ohio State provided more competition in the semifinals, but Domijan ousted Buckeye Peter Kobelt, the second ranked player in the nation, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 to propel Virginia into the finals.

“He’s proven to be an extremely tough competitor,” Boland said of Domijan. “He really embraces competition and the adversity that he’s faced … being the top player in the country. He’s been great, and I’m certainly happy that he was put in that position.”

Of course, Domijan represents just one member of a supremely talented and experienced roster. Sophomore Mitchell Frank, who clinched the USC win in his No. 3 singles match, No. 3 senior Jarmere Jenkins and No. 8 freshman Mac Styslinger round out the top of a Cavalier lineup that compares favorably to any other in the nation. Most remarkably, Virginia’s players are unselfish and team-oriented in a sport that is, by definition, individualistic.

“They work hard every day and want to be the best they can be, but they want the team to succeed in the worst way,” Boland said. “I don’t think there’s any question that each of these players would put the team success over their own success, which is pretty special.”

Oklahoma (8-2), meanwhile, is coming off a 5-2 win against Texas A&M. The Sooners also competed in the ITA Team Indoors but fell to Duke 4-0 in the first round. They have won three straight matches since then, however, and will have registered far more match experience after visiting Wake Forest tonight before their trip to Charlottesville.

Boland shrugged off concerns about the rust, claiming that the two-week layoff since ITA Nationals has rejuvenated an already-confident Cavalier roster.

“We haven’t played since the National Indoors, so this is a challenge for us after a couple weeks to play a team of this level, but I feel great,” Boland said. “The guys are confident and, for the most part, healthy.”

First serve is at noon Sunday.

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