REKULAPELLI: No. 5 men’s tennis is on its way back to greatness

The No. 5 Cavaliers have had veterans and newcomers alike step up to catapult them back into the top-10

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Freshman Brandon Nakashima, the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2018, has been integral to Virginia's return to among the nation's elite teams. Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After a shaky first season under Coach Andres Pedroso, No. 5 Virginia men’s tennis (14-3, 5-2 ACC), has looked more like the Cavaliers that won four national championships between 2013 and 2017 and 13 straight ACC championships from 2004-16 under former Coach Brian Boland. Although Virginia may not be the juggernaut it was in years past, this season is shaping up to be a big step in the right direction for Pedroso’s squad. 

However, since Virginia became a dominant force in ACC and national men’s tennis, their path has only gotten harder, as teams like Wake Forest and North Carolina have developed their programs into perennial top-10 teams. Last year, Wake Forest took the ACC and national championships, while North Carolina fell to Wake Forest in the ACC Championship and made it to the NCAA round of 16. 

Nonetheless, this year Virginia has been able to keep pace with the top-flight men’s tennis teams, upsetting then-No.1 Wake Forest at home in February, as well as top-10 teams Stanford and Texas A&M. 

One piece of the Cavaliers’ return to success lies in the astronomical development of many of the Cavaliers’ current starters. Junior Carl Soderlund, who was a member of the 2017 national championship winning team, started off his career on the All-ACC Second Team after winning his first 13 matches as a collegiate athlete, but quickly moved up to the No. 23 singles player in the country and the All-ACC First Team his sophomore year. 

Unsurprisingly, Soderlund has been even more spectacular this season, posting some of his highest-rated victories to date, defeating 2018 national singles champion No. 3 junior Petros Chrysochos of Wake Forest, and No. 8 freshman Axel Geller of Stanford while maintaining the No. 11 spot in the national singles rankings.

As veterans like Soderlund move on, they will be supplanted by a recruiting class that has become one of the best in the nation. The No. 2 recruit in the class of 2018, freshman Brandon Nakashima, has burst onto the scene, peaking at the No. 50 collegiate singles player in the country. Before coming to the University, Nakashima was the ITF Junior Masters Boys’ World Champion, finishing his high school career ranked as the No. 5 junior player in the world. 

Nakashima’s success on the international junior circuit has translated to similar success in the collegiate circuit, despite the fact that Nakashima now must contend with athletes three to four years his senior. In February, Nakashima defeated Wake Forest’s No. 21 freshman Bar Botzer in a straight-set upset, with the stalwart freshman only losing four of 17 total matches this season. 

Alongside Nakashima next year will be another top recruit, No. 11 Christian Alshon of the class of 2019, who has enrolled at the University, but will join the team in the 2019-2020 season. Alshon is widely considered to be one of the top blue-chip recruits in the nation and should team up with Soderlund and Nakashima to create an electric Cavalier team come next season. 

Yet it isn’t just the recruits themselves that are improving for Virginia but also the facilities. After playing in the Sheridan Snyder Tennis Center adjacent to Memorial Gymnasium on Grounds for the past 22 years, Virginia is constructing a new tennis facility at Boar’s Head. The facility is expected to be one of the best, not only in the ACC, but in the whole country and will go a long way in bringing even more blue-chip recruits to play for the Cavaliers. 

Since their disappointing 2017-18 campaign, Virginia men’s tennis has quickly jumped back into the top-10 rankings, thanks to the likes of Soderlund, Alshorn and Nakashima. These three players, alongside the rest of the team, stellar coaching and world-class facilities should once again make Virginia a force to be reckoned within men’s collegiate tennis. 

Akhil Rekulapelli is a Sports Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at sports@cavalierdaily.com.

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