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Surging Cavs host weekend trio

Torrid recent play bolsters squad's confidence ahead of home matchups

The scorching No. 18 Virginia women’s tennis team will look to continue its recently dominant play this weekend as it faces two conference foes in Wake Forest and No. 44 NC State, followed by one non-conference match against East Tennessee State.

Virginia (10-7, 4-1 ACC) has won seven of its last eight matches, with the only loss in that stretch coming by one point to No. 6 Duke. The Cavaliers followed that setback with an enormous victory last weekend against No. 1 North Carolina.

“It’s great because we had a tough start to the season at the National Indoors, so everyone is really excited about this victory,” senior Maria Fuccillo said.

Also during this stretch, Virginia has climbed an astounding 29 spots in the ITA national rankings. The Cavaliers were ranked as low as No. 47 a mere three weeks ago, but their stellar conference play has vaulted them back into the top 20.

“We know we have to keep on rolling with it — it’s not going to be easy here on out,” Fuccillo said. “We’ll keep that victory in the back of our heads to motivate us to keep getting better.”

Virginia will kick off the weekend with a Saturday showdown against Wake Forest (1-14, 0-5 ACC). Although the Demon Deacons possess a lackluster record, nine of the 15 matches they have played have been against ranked opponents. The Deacons are led by senior Kathryn Talbert, who has 100 career singles victories and will look to increase that tally on Saturday.

The following day, an upset-minded NC State (10-5, 1-4 ACC) comes to Charlottesville. The Wolfpack started very strong at the beginning of the season, jumping out to a 9-0 record, but have stumbled of late and lost five of six. Virginia hopes to continue that trend and will rely on its talented young roster to ensure the Wolfpack’s woes continue.

“NC State was ranked extremely high earlier in the year,” coach Mark Guilbeau said. “We know what they’re capable of.”

And although East Tennessee State (9-4, 4-0 A-Sun) is a small school in a mid-major conference, it does pose a threat to Virginia. In a reversal of the Wolfpack’s recent woes, the Buccaneers have won five of their last six matches, including a lopsided 4-0 victory against then-No. 74 North Florida University. Senior Antonia Kolovou, who was named the Atlantic Sun’s Player of the Week last week, headlines East Tennessee State’s conference-leading roster.

This time of year has brought a unique set of challenges to Virginia, as it forces Guilbeau’s squad to cope with three matches played in just two days. Last weekend in North Carolina, the team faced off against North Carolina Central just an hour after their thrilling triumph against the Tar Heels.

“Obviously, we have a couple of extra matches that are very positive and important for the team,” Guilbeau said. “There are a lot of benefits to the schedule, and its designed with a purpose in mind.”

The Cavaliers must continue their solid doubles play if they are to keep their winning ways alive. The loss of freshman sensation Maci Epstein to injury undoubtedly hurt the team, but after stealing the doubles point in all three matches last weekend, it is clear that Virginia has finally settled into its new pairings.

“Maci was a very, very important part of our doubles,” Guilbeau said. “To regroup and shuffle things around as much as we did and have the team be open minded was extremely positive. Every doubles point is super exciting for us because we’ve had to make so many adjustments.”

Virginia will also lean heavily on its duo of freshman stars No. 15 Julia Elbaba and no. 65 Stephanie Nauta. Elbaba was honored with the ACC Player of the Week award for her stellar play last weekend.

The Cavaliers are hoping to get a boost from its home court advantage. If the weather holds, Saturday’s match will mark just the second outdoor match the team will have played in Charlottesville.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some fans out there,” Fuccillo said. “I hope more people will come out since we’re doing so well.”

First serve is scheduled for noon both Saturday and Sunday at the Snyder Tennis Courts.

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