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Senior leaders guide women's tennis team to new highs

For the No. 4 Virginia women’s tennis team’s four seniors, their final season has looked pretty good. Having upset top-ranked Duke at home and reached a program-best No. 3 ranking twice, the team’s veteran members now look ahead to a potentially deep postseason run. As the younger players continue to be the faces of another successful season, these seniors will play a major behind-the-scenes role, helping the team move forward in ways not always visible on the court.

Virginia (15-4, 9-1 ACC) honored its seniors — co-captain Caryssa Peretz, Li Xi, Marjorie Baker and Clare Spooner — last Sunday in a ceremony prior to the match against No. 15 Clemson (17-4, 9-1 ACC). Though only two of the seniors have seen action this season, all of them made ACC Honor Roll last year, proving their dedication extends beyond the sport.

The seniors have also played a monumental role in helping groom the Cavaliers’ newest batch of freshmen.

“We’re kind of there, hopefully as role models, as teammates and friends,” Peretz said. “We’re obviously very close but we want to be there just to guide them.”

Facing a tough transition from high school to college, veteran teammates can ensure freshmen are fully aware of what to expect on and off the court.

“Honestly [the transition] is a shock,” freshman Rachel Pierson said. “In what classes to take, I always go to the seniors and they’ll tell me. They’ll tell me when to be at practice, what to bring, what to expect and how to play and it really does help.”

Baker and Spooner also play a big role on Virginia’s sideline. The two are always present, encouraging their teammates throughout matches even when they do not personally make appearances on the court.

“They have a role and they’re doing a great job as students and athletes,” coach Mark Guilbeau said. “One of their biggest roles is to support the team and to push the spirit of things, and I think they’ve done that.”

Despite not seeing as much dual action this season, Xi and Peretz proved they were always ready to go when called upon to play doubles or split time at No. 6 singles.

Nominated as a quarterfinalist in the ITA Atlantic Regional singles and finishing 9-0 in ACC matches last year, Peretz has added her own chapter to the growing legacy of Virginia’s record-breaking program. Though her playing time has been limited this season, Peretz has continued to find success with the time she sees on the court, having gone 2-0 in doubles and 4-0 in singles with a notable 7-6(4), 6-2 victory against sophomore Yuilynn Miao of Clemson.

“Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to play with such a great team and coaching staff,” Peretz said. “We really know how to handle ourselves well on the court and we really pump each other up and get each other going so I think it’s worked in our favor.”

Though plagued with injury and struggling to find her rhythm in singles this season, Xi has made major contributions to the Cavaliers’ doubles competition. In the past two years Xi has been ranked as high as the top-15 in doubles, advancing to the ITA Intercollegiate Indoor doubles finals and NCAA Doubles Champion with partner sophomore Stephanie Nauta last season.

Paired with Nauta again this year, Xi has continued her strong doubles play with a 4-0 record. Two of those wins came this past weekend against Clemson and then-No. 27 Georgia Tech (9-7, 6-4 ACC).

Like Peretz, Xi was able to end her home career at Virginia on a high note. In her last court appearance Sunday, Xi worked with Nauta in doubles to defeat the No. 78 pair of Tristen Dewar and Romy Koelzer in a tiebreaker to clinch the doubles point against the Tigers.

“Honestly for Chili [Xi], she’s had a lot of ups and downs,” Guilbeau said. “We’re talking to her a lot about really trying to leave here with no regrets, and I’m proud of her.”