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The Virginia women’s tennis team opened its 2008 fall season last week with a strong performance at the Bulldog Invitational in Athens, Ga. The Cavaliers had a 14-4 singles record at the tournament, which featured several NCAA Tournament caliber teams. This week, the team hosts the UVa Fall Invitational at the Snyder Tennis Center, running Friday to Sunday. caught up with head coach Mark Guilbeau to discuss his squad and preview this weekend’s tournament.

Question: You are now one tournament into the season. What is your assessment of the team at this point of the season?

Guilbeau: I couldn’t be more excited. Troy Porco (assistant coach) and I both knew heading into this season that this group was going to be different. We have veterans that we know what they have been doing in the program and that they are in good shape to start the season. But what makes this season such a unique situation is that we have a group of newcomers that we have been communicating with so much over the past year and now they are finally here. They have shared with us all the tennis and training they have done and it has been a process that started long before this first tournament. That’s what gives us so much excitement is that we really have a head start and the kids have given us that opportunity. They have come in very prepared and hungry to do well. The level of play at Georgia was extremely high and the team showed the excitement, maturity, and positive attitude that makes for a great situation.

Question: Last week at Georgia you played some very tough competition and had some great results. What stood out most to you from the weekend?

Guilbeau: There were a number of things. The way the team was able to immediately go into match play and pretty much play at a level that was as high as they have been practicing or higher. That is a unique characteristic. We have a group here that can handle the nerves and likes the competition to the point that it stimulates them even more. Some kids lock up and get nervous and can’t do the things in matches that they can do in practice. These kids clearly are competitive and have that focus that you want in a big moment. To see them come out of the blocks and right away play really well was a nice thing. The communication, not just listening, but the feedback from them, the thought that was being put into their tennis, was evident to us as coaches. To immediately go into playing strengths and weaknesses, doing specific patterns and setting up specific plays is a positive and these players will only get better as the season goes along. Those were a few of the positives. It is the most serious focus we have had since we have been here. But at the same time, it comes along with a high level of enjoyment. And that doesn’t surprise us as a staff at all. We have been talking about this for three years. We want to develop a mature focus centered around the desire to play at a high level on the courts and that fueling the enjoyment of the game. This weekend was really a positive and a great place to start a season from.

Question: This weekend you are hosting your tournament and once again playing some top competition. What are you looking for this week?

Guilbeau: We are looking for the same things we saw at Georgia, only better. These kids enjoy the competition and to have the chance to play at home, in front of our fans that it is only going to be better for them. They will show a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We have talked about being a team and individual players that fans would be excited to watch. This group is going to be that. You are going to see players with positive minds and emotions that make it easy to watch and want to pull for. Certainly when the temperatures are expected in the mid 70s, that is perfect for watching some tennis. We definitely have a new process and this is the start of something really great.

Question: Does it make it easier to start a new process when you have more newcomers than veterans on the roster?

Guilbeau: It does. It’s exciting. With the newcomers, we have dealt with them over the phone and watched them at tournaments so much, it is great to finally have them here and see them competing in a Virginia uniform. This is now where we all want to be. We wanted them here and they wanted to be here. They have some great leadership with the veterans we have returning and they only enhance that leadership by bringing their own and being led easily. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

Question: You mentioned the leadership of the returning players. Two of them, Jennifer Stevens and Amanda Rales are ranked in the preseason singles and doubles rankings. Are you expecting bigger things from them this season?

Guilbeau: We are clearly expecting good things. Amanda has in many instances has come close to maxing out and playing at the highest level she is capable of. Yet she still has found ways to keep progressing and I think there is still another level she can take her game. In terms of an effort and desire and a willingness to be a leader, I don’t think we can ask any more from her. Jenny has had brilliant moments, but has had some ups and downs. This fall, and it has just been one tournament, has been good. She has not had a strong fall in the past two years. She was playing at Georgia like it was late in the spring season and we know that she has played some tennis at the highest level towards the end of the spring. She understands the value of that now. That a strong fall season can put her in position to have some individual achievements and rewards that she deserves. I do think there is another level for her and it comes simply from being more consistent. It is exciting to see her start a season that way and really apply the things she has worked hard on.

Question: Is there more of a focus on the fall season this year because the end of it is the ITA National Indoor Championships, which this year will be held at the Boar’s Head Sports Club?

Guilbeau: I haven’t talked to them too much about it. We are so excited about the University of Virginia and Boar’s Head being able to host that event. Our players haven’t been at that level yet but we will have players achieving that level. To have the wild card for the singles and doubles is an unbelievable gift for this team. I am sure the kids are thinking about it. I know they would want this whole team to be involved in that tournament. They are going give an effort that is worthy of that. It is going to be exciting to have some players in that tournament and we are going to try to earn some more spots as we go through the fall. What Troy and I like the most is that they are aware of it. They understand that’s a normal level we should be trying to work towards. The standard is higher and I think that will be symbolized by ending the fall with that tournament.

Question: What will the fans that come out to the Snyder Tennis Center this weekend expect to see at the UVa Fall Invitational?

Guilbeau: The fans are going to be very excited to watch this team. We haven’t had a whole lot of success to build our fan base. We feel accountable to do that now and I know that this team is ready for that. We would love to build it to where we have 1,000 fans a match like the men’s team does. They have done a great job to earn that and deserve that. I can tell you that our team has players, some new players in particular, that have the talent and skills that fans will like. People like to turn the TV on and watch great tennis. Well, you can come out and watch some of that same type of talent in person at Snyder or Boar’s Head. We have some kids who can really do some things on the court and it is neat to see. It comes from hard work and they are going to put every bit of effort into it. We are hoping to have a great atmosphere this weekend with some quality tennis and that the fans will enjoy that.

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