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Cavaliers fall in ACC Semifinals

Women's tennis finish season ranked 15th nationally, fail to convert to ACC victory

After stumbling out of the gates to a disappointing 3-6 record, the Virginia women’s tennis team dominated in ACC regular season play to finish the season as the nation’s 15th-ranked squad. The Cavaliers went 16-8 overall, including a 9-2 mark in conference competition to earn a first round bye and the third seed in the ACC Tournament.

“Going into ACC’s, we had a lot of confidence from all of the great wins we had in duals,” then-freshman star Julia Elbaba said.

Virginia used that confidence to its advantage in the second round of the tournament, when it faced off against 11th-seeded Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers had defeated their rival 6-1 in the regular season, but the Hokies proved to be a much tougher opponent in the tournament, testing the Cavaliers until the very last point.

“The Virginia Tech match was a tough one,” Elbaba said. “It was 3-3 and everything came down to my court, where my opponent and I were in a 5-all third set. Luckily I was able to clinch the match for our team.”

The Cavaliers were unable to ride that momentum into the semifinals, where they were pitted against the seventh-seeded Florida State. Once again, Virginia found itself knotted in a 3-3 tie with one court left to decide which team would earn a championship berth. In a thrilling three-set marathon, Seminole senior Amy Sargeant outlasted Virginia junior Li Xi to cap a furious rally in which Florida State won the final four courts of the match.

“Even though we lost it in the semifinals, the Florida State match was one of the most important moments of the season for our team,” coach Mark Guilbeau said. “The team was heartbroken, but we took every bit of positive out of it that we could.”

Virginia’s outstanding regular season play earned them the right to home court advantage in the NCAA Regional. The Cavaliers rolled over Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0 in the first round, but they also knew that a tough road lay ahead.

“Coming into NCAAs, I was really excited because I knew all of the teams were going to be tough,” Elbaba said. “We got a tough draw with Texas, but I was confident that our girls could pull through anything.”

The Texas match proved to be one of the highlights of Virginia’s season. The 18th-seeded Longhorns and 14th-seeded Cavaliers traded blows to reach a 3-3 tie with a third-set tiebreak left to determine who would earn the ticket to Illinois. The pressure again rested on Xi’s shoulders and, this time, she delivered. After fighting off two match points, the junior blanked Texas sophomore Noel Scott 7-0 in the tiebreak, stamping the Cavaliers’ Round of 16 bid for the third straight year.

Virginia’s road did not get any easier, however, and the confident squad went up against the third-seeded Texas A&M — a team that had handily defeated the Cavaliers twice during the regular season. Virginia was unable to reverse the trend, falling 5-0 to the Aggies to end its season.

“We were disappointed to lose to Texas A&M, but they were a very strong team and just barely missed winning the national championship,” Guilbeau said. “We played a hard match and I don’t want to make any excuses, but we were emotionally and physically drained from the match with Texas.”

Virginia set a school record with nine conference wins in 2013, reached the Round of 16 for just the third time in school history and Elbaba was named an All-American, ITA Rookie of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year and All-ACC. The team graduates seniors Hana Tomljanovic, Erin Vierra and Maria Fuccillo, and will be able to reload with three high-caliber recruits in Rachel Pierson, Marie-Ambroisine Faure and University of Florida transfer sophomore Danielle Collins.

“This is about as excited as you can be for a new season,” Guilbeau said. “We graduated [players] who did a lot for the program, but the three that we are bringing in are ready to push us to the next level.”


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