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Men's tennis eyes conference milestone

No. 1 Cavaliers host No. 19 Clemson looking for 100th consecutive ACC win

On April 23, 2006, the Virginia men’s tennis team lost the ACC Championship match 4-3 to Duke. The team took the doubles point and two singles matches for a 3-0 lead, but the Blue Devils fought back for the conference title. Three weeks passed and the Cavaliers downed Wake Forest in the NCAA Round of 32 and today — nearly seven years later — they have yet to lose to a conference opponent since.

This year’s No. 1 men’s tennis team (17-0, 6-0 ACC) has a chance to continue the work its 2006 counterpart started. The Cavaliers will host No. 25 Clemson Friday, and a win would mark their 100th consecutive ACC victory.

“It’s something every coach would love to be able to talk about,” head coach Brian Boland said. “I’m really proud of what the program has accomplished over all these years. To be able to win 99 straight matches in a conference as strong as the ACC is a tremendous tribute to all the hard work that has gone into our program.”

Boland, who has compiled a 303-44 record at Virginia and six ACC Coach of the Year recognitions, certainly has reason to be proud. Of course, the opportunity ahead is not necessarily what he would like his players to focus on entering the match.

“My guess is that they’re aware of the opportunity that they have,” Boland said. “As much as it’s something that you would not want to talk about, the reality is that it is a milestone and I hope that they use that as a motivation and not something they become distracted by.”
Boland may not have much to worry about: two of his senior leaders were stunned to hear about the streak for the first time Tuesday.

“What ACC streak?” captain Jarmere Jenkins asked.

Jenkins’ fellow captain Julen Uriguen was only slightly more informed.

“I knew we had a pretty big winning streak,” Uriguen said. “But I had no idea that [if we won] we would be hitting 100. That’s a huge milestone for the program and for coach Boland.”

Boland has been the mastermind behind the program’s incredible success. In the 2001-2002 season, his first as head coach, the team finished seventh in the ACC. Two years later the Cavaliers won their first-ever conference title.

“It was very special to win the first one,” Boland said. “We’ve certainly taken advantage of the momentum we’ve had since then and had a lot of success.”

Since that 2004 title, the program has become a national powerhouse. Throughout the course of the streak alone Virginia has picked up six ACC Tournament Championships and seven NCAA Tournament appearances, twice reaching the finals. Somdev Devvarman won the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Singles Championship and the teams of Michael Shabaz and Dominic Inglot and Shabaz and Drew Courtney won the 2009 and 2010 doubles championships, respectively.

But the team has not gone entirely unchallenged. Ten ACC matches have been won by a score of 4-3, and six reached a score of 3-3. In 2007 the Cavaliers faced their largest deficit, falling behind Florida State 3-0 before pulling off a tremendous comeback to win the match and preserve the still-young streak.

For Boland, the most impressive aspect of the Virginia tennis program is not the awards and accolades it has received, but the unwavering dedication of so many players.

“We’ve had so many players come through the program, and show up every day and work hard to be ready to play every single match,” Boland said. “We’ve had a lot of team highlights over the years, but the one thing that I am most proud of is the consistency that the players have brought to the program year in and year out.”

Boland’s words are especially relevant this weekend as Saturday’s match against Georgia Tech is Senior Day, and Jenkins, Uriguen, Dino Dell’Orto and Brian Fang will be recognized at the last home match of their college careers.

“It’s meant the world to me,” Uriguen said of the program. “I’m really grateful that coach Boland was able to recruit me and get me here.”

The match should be bittersweet for Jenkins, who has not quite processed the ending of his time at Virginia.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Jenkins said. “Maybe I’ll have a definite answer for you on Saturday. It still hasn’t hit me yet.”

Given the potential to make history Friday and the end of an era Saturday, the weekend has more than a little bit of drama attached to it, but the Cavaliers remain unfazed. They maintain that the job at hand is simply to win the next match — celebration can come later.

“We just focus on one match at a time,” Uriguen said. “We just have to keep doing the same thing. We’ll focus on our individual matches and try to get it done on Friday.”


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