Wednesday night, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors play the Memphis Grizzlies at Oracle Arena in Oakland with a record-setting 73-win season for the taking. In the spotlight all year long, Stephen Curry and his teammates might just do what no one has done before.
Maybe the Warriors’ victory in San Antonio Sunday night has me thinking about the Virginia women and men’s tennis teams this morning. Because this weekend in Charlottesville, seniors Danielle Collins, Julia Elbaba and Ryan Shane — along with a few of their teammates — compete at Snyder Tennis Center for the last time.
I don’t mean to suggest that the Virginia tennis teams have taken command this season as the Warriors have done in men’s professional hoops. But a connection is there: Wednesday’s game at Oracle and this weekend’s matches at Snyder are conclusions to something memorable.
That is why I think if you haven’t been to a Virginia tennis match — and I haven’t, despite writing sports for eight semesters and having parents who love the game more than just about anything — this Friday or Sunday is the time to go.
Collins, Elbaba, Shane and fellow seniors Maci Epstein, Skylar Morton, Stephanie Nauta, Taylor Wingo, Jonathan Cornish and Mac Styslinger will never again grace our Charlottesville courts in NCAA match play. This senior class has been special in the same way this year’s graduating men’s basketball class was special.
Collins will leave town as Virginia’s first — and for now, its only — NCAA women’s singles champion. Shane claimed the men’s national title last summer, when his Cavaliers also captured the team crown. And if you’ve followed the ITA singles rankings, you know Elbaba cracked the top five as a freshman.
Nauta won 28 singles matches and earned all-conference honors in her first collegiate season. Epstein and then-senior Erin Vierra made it up to No. 5 in the national doubles rankings back in 2012-13. And after transferring from UCLA, Morton picked up five wins at the ACC Championships last year, taking home the MVP.
The Virginia women finished with 23 wins last season, including 11 in conference play. This year, the team’s 12-9 (7-5 ACC) mark isn’t quite as eye-popping. But the Cavaliers are still No. 15 in the nation — and the men, for the record, are No. 3.
Does special mean we have an obligation to bear witness? I don’t think so. Students and staff at this University — and more broadly, men and women everywhere — do things no one else is doing all the time. We don’t watch a great student in the Economics Department take her last exam, and we don’t all head to Old Cabell Hall because a killer jazz trumpeter is due for his last solo.
But even if we don’t have an obligation to spectate, doing so might just open our eyes. We’ve all seen Malcolm Brogdon shut down a go-to scorer, London Perrantes swish a deep three and Anthony Gill pivot and pump-fake his way to a low-post basket. But have you seen Shane’s one-hander off the backhand side, or Elbaba’s footwork along the baseline?
The first Sunday of spring break, my roommate and I checked out the ACC Wrestling Championships at John Paul Jones Arena. I’d never watched our team before, and I didn’t know all the rules. But I’m glad I went— Chris Yankowich picked up an exciting pin to make the semis, and Zach Nye’s first-round match, right before intermission, felt like it might never end.
We all know that Virginia has many stellar athletes, but we don’t really know what they do until we go watch them perform.
This Friday and Sunday are our last chances to watch Collins, Elbaba, Shane and the rest — our last chances to make what they do more than an abstraction.
I might just stop in. And if I do, I’m sure I’ll be glad. It’s not every year we have a graduating class like this — though under coaches Mark Guilbeau and Brian Boland, Virginia tennis has certainly taken flight.