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Men's Tennis heads west to play UCLA, Loyola Marymount

Cavaliers, Bruins face off in rematch of 2013 NCAA Championship

The No. 2 Virginia men’s tennis team hits the road Thursday, travelling to Los Angeles for a pair of matches against No. 3 UCLA and Loyola Marymount. The Cavaliers defeated No. 12 Baylor and No. 9 Notre Dame last weekend in Charlottesville, each by a score of 6-1, to bounce back from a 4-3 loss at the hands of No. 1 Ohio State in the ITA Indoor Semifinals.

Both the Cavaliers (9-1, 2-0 ACC) and the Bruins (9-1, 1-0 Pac-12) have been looking forward to this date as a rematch of the 2013 National Championship Final. Their meeting last May saw the Cavaliers come away with a 4-3 victory to claim their first-ever NCAA Team title and conclude an undefeated season. Then-sophomore Mitchell Frank staged a heroic comeback on the last court, staving off multiple match points along the way.

UCLA is looking for redemption after the heart-breaking loss, and will force the Cavaliers to stay on their toes. Both teams posted big weekends in which they defeated top-ranked opponents. For Virginia, last weekend’s victories against Notre Dame and Baylor helped them leapfrog several teams, including UCLA, as they moved from No. 10 to No. 2 overall. The Bruins are coming off a big conference win against rival No. 5 USC, and will also have confidence heading into Thursday’s match.

“I believe both teams are anticipating a great college tennis match,” coach Brian Boland said. “We have great leadership. Six of our top eight from last year’s NCAA Championship match are veterans on the team.”

The Bruins boast a deep lineup featuring two of the best singles players in the country — senior Clay Thompson and junior Marcos Giron, ranked No. 1 and No. 5, respectively. The Cavaliers are determined not to be out-gunned, though, as Frank comes in at No. 4 in the singles rankings. Hard-hitting sophomore Ryan Shane’s emergence during the weekend provides a big boost to the top half of the Virginia lineup. Shane picked up a couple of signature victories against the No. 13 and No. 28 players in the country, and was rewarded for his efforts with the title of ACC Player of the Week.

“Ryan has a tremendous amount of ability,” Boland said. “Ryan has improved every aspect of his game — starting with his serve, which has become a huge weapon.”

While UCLA’s singles play has been superb thus far, its doubles pairings have struggled to find consistency. The Bruins have won less than 50 percent of the time at No. 1 in doubles portion of their matches this season. On the other hand, the Cavaliers are nearly 80 percent at No. 1 and also have one-half of last year’s NCAA Doubles title pair in sophomore Mac Styslinger. Styslinger has continued to dominate doubles, especially when paired with freshman Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, with the pair going 5-0 this season.

Kwiatkowski is one of four freshmen on the team this year, all of whom have had a very smooth transition to college play. Fellow freshman Jordan Daigle is 16-4 on the season so far and has played more singles matches than anyone else on the team. The freshmen, together, have accomplished the difficult task of converting individual success at the junior level to winning in the more team-oriented NCAA competition.

“From juniors to college is pretty different,” Kwiatkowski said. “You are no longer playing for yourself. You’re playing for the team, for Virginia. I think it’s been good. All the freshmen are making the transition well.”

The Cavaliers follow up their match against UCLA with another outing Friday against Loyola Marymount. The Lions (4-1, 0-1 WCC) hosted No. 71 College of Charleston Wednesday afternoon in a primer for their bout against Virginia, suffering a 6-1 defeat. Last week, they topped Northern Arizona 7-0 after falling 4-0 against conference rival No. 19 Pepperdine. Friday’s match will be the first-ever meeting between Loyola Marymount and Virginia.

A few Cavaliers — including Frank, Styslinger, Kwiatkowski and freshman JC Aragone — will likely play in the USTA Futures event in Bakersfield after the match against Loyola Marymount. Also slated to play in the event is Virginia alum Michael Shabaz, who won the 2009 NCAA Men’s Doubles Championship.