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No. 2 men's tennis heads to postseason

Powerhouse Cavaliers chase eighth consecutive ACC title, elusive national championship

For most of the last decade, the No. 2 Virginia men’s tennis program has been the undeniable powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference, as well as one of the best teams in the nation. But despite their consistently talented rosters and numerous accolades, the Cavaliers are still missing one thing: a national championship.

Now with 103 straight conference victories, the team begins that journey when it starts its postseason with the ACC Tournament in Cary, N.C. The Cavaliers (21-0, 10-0 ACC) have won the tournament eight times since head coach Brian Boland’s arrival. After completing yet another phenomenal season, this weekend could very well mark the ninth title of the Boland era.

“I think we feel pretty good,” sophomore Mitchell Frank said, “We just came off of two good wins over Florida State and Miami down there in the heat. I think all the guys are playing really well and everyone’s really confident, so it should be a good week getting ready for the ACC tournament.”

The Cavaliers’ only real threat within the ACC came in March when the team opened conference play by hosting then-No. 8 Duke. The Blue Devils dropped the doubles point but managed to fight back and earn wins on the first, second and fifth courts to tie the match at 3-3. At No. 6, Virginia senior Julen Uriguen managed to stay composed and clinch a nerve-wracking match for the team.

Since the Duke match, Virginia has encountered little to no real opposition — no other conference opponent has tallied more than a single point against them. Whether indoors, outdoors, on the road or at home, the Cavaliers have been dominant across the board. Another ACC title sits firmly in their crosshairs and beyond that, a shot at an elusive national championship.

In each of the past two national championship matches, the Cavaliers have faced off against perennial rival University of Southern California and lost heartbreaking matches. In 2011 the team clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the score, but Sanam Singh lost a three-set battle to Daniel Nguyen and the Trojans emerged victorious.

A year later, the Trojans and Cavaliers met once again. After trading the first few matches, USC took a 3-2 lead. Each of the final two matches went to third sets, but current junior Justin Shane lost a hard-fought contest to Yannick Hanfmann 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(4).

“You can only give yourself a chance, which we’ll continue to do every year,” Boland said, “I feel like we play outstanding tennis in the postseason year in and year out. We just need to leave it on the court every single day, try to become better tennis players all the way to the end, and try to make the most of it.”

Past Virginia lineups have hardly been devoid of talent, including the likes of Somdev Devvarman, Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz, among others. But this year’s roster boasts some of the nation’s best players in junior Alex Domijan, senior Jarmere Jenkins and Frank. With freshmen Mac Styslinger, the Shane brothers and Uriguen rounding out the starting lineup — not to mention even more talent on the bench — this Cavalier team may be the strongest yet.

The players, however, believe what sets them apart from past teams is their chemistry.

“We just get along so well,” Styslinger said, “Everyone on the team is best friends with each other and we’ve spent a lot of time together recently, so that’s good and that will help us.”

This year, Virginia has already posted important wins against top teams, most notably USC in February’s National Team Indoors. Brimming with talent and confidence, there is no question that this year’s Cavaliers have the potential to finally win the NCAA title.

“We know that this is a new season and the important thing is that we’re healthy, feeling good and playing great tennis,” Boland said, “We’re excited to play the tournament this weekend. We’ll leave it on the court every single day for the rest of the year, and just try to find little ways to improve all the way to the end.”

After a first-round bye, the Cavaliers will face either North Carolina or Miami in Friday’s quarterfinals. Should they advance, they will play in the semifinals Saturday and the championship Sunday.

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