By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nearly a week has passed since a 4-3 defeat at Kentucky ended UVa’s 63-match regular-season winning streak in men’s tennis.
How, Brian Boland was asked Wednesday night, have his players responded to the stunning loss?
“Much better than I have,” Boland said.
The Cavaliers’ veteran coach laughed after making that remark. The loss stung, but Boland knows it’s better to stumble in the regular season than when it really counts, in the NCAA tournament. Each of his past two teams finished 32-1 after losing in the NCAAs.
“We talk about it all the time,” Boland said. “If you’re in this business, you have to learn to deal with those situations. So if anything, I think it’ll help us down the road.
“Hopefully it allows the team to kind of look at some things more closely that we need to do a better job of, starting with doubles. We came out and played flat in the doubles, and for the first time that I can ever remember as a coach at the University of Virginia, we got swept across the board.”
After the final point had been played last weekend in Lexington, Ky., and the Wildcats’ upset was official, UVa juniors Michael Shabaz and Sanam Singh weren’t sure how to react. They’d never experienced a regular-season team loss. Neither was in college when Boland’s team lost to Texas on March 18, 2007, after which the Cavaliers’ winning streak began.
“It was definitely different, but it’s something that every team has to cope with, and you learn from it and move on,” Shabaz said Thursday afternoon.
The Wahoos have shifted their focus to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Team Indoor Championships, which start Friday and run through Monday at the Boar’s Head Sports Club.
“This is a huge event here in Charlottesville, and hopefully a lot of people will come out and support us,” Singh said.
In 2008, UVa won the ITA indoor title in Seattle. In 2009, the ‘Hoos repeated as national indoor champions, winning in Chicago this time. Not since Stanford in the mid-1970s has a team won the tourney three times in a row.
“Obviously all the pressure is on us, because we’re two-time defending champions and at Boar’s Head,” Singh said.
For UVa to host the ITA indoor championships, Boland said, is “a tremendous honor, and I think it speaks volumes about how far our program has come over the course of the last decade in terms of facilities and improvement of the program.”
Admission to the 16-team tournament is free. UVa (4-1), seeded No. 2, meets No. 15 seed Alabama (3-1) at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The quarterfinals are Saturday and the semifinals Sunday. The ITA final is Monday at noon.
“I feel like we’re confident, even though we lost last week,” Singh said.
Kentucky is in town, but a rematch with UVa is unlikely. UK is seeded No. 13 and can’t meet Virginia before the final. On Kentucky’s side of the bracket is top-seeded Southern California, the defending NCAA outdoor champion. USC spoiled UVa’s perfect season in the NCAA quarterfinals last year.
Most of the key players from that Virginia team are still on the roster. The biggest loss was Dom Inglot, who played No. 1 singles and teamed with Shabaz to win the NCAA doubles title.
“I think it’s a much-improved team in many aspects, in terms of the experience we have and the things we’ve gone through,” Boland said. “Certainly last year’s team had a great record in terms of our results, but we also had a number of very close matches where things went our way.”
Inglot’s “are big shoes to fill, but we brought in what is considered by many the top recruit in the country in Jarmere Jenkins, and he was the highest-ranked freshman in the country over the fall campaign,” Boland said. “So certainly he proved that he was one of the best freshmen — if not the best — in any program around the country, and he’s really developed and done a good job for us so far.”
His veterans have improved, too, Boland said.
“I think ultimately we’ll be a better team [than in 2009],” he said, “but we’re not going to achieve the same regular-season results as last year.”
The doubles lineups that will represent UVa this weekend are different from those that went 0-3 against Kentucky. At No. 1 doubles will be Shabaz and Drew Courtney; at No. 2, Jenkins and Houston Barrick; at No. 3, Singh and Lee Singer.
“I just made the decision after evaluating our situation on the way back from Kentucky,” Boland said. “Obviously, I was disappointed in parts of our play and some things that I thought we should be doing a lot better. But with that being said, I think we can turn this into a big positive.
“It’s all part of playing at the highest level. We had a day where we just didn’t play well, but at the same time I believe this team has a lot of resilience and great character and they’ll bounce back, and hopefully it’ll help us this weekend.”
UVa’s probable singles lineup: Shabaz at No. 1, Singh at No. 2, Jenkins at No. 3, Courtney at No. 4, Barrick at No. 5, and Singer at No. 6. Boland said he’ll also consider playing Philippe Oudshoorn and Steven Rouda.
“We’re really deep,” Boland said, “and I know that all eight of those players are going to be able and ready to play if needed.”
Boland praised the University of Virginia Foundation and its CEO, Tim Rose, along with the Boar’s Head Sports Club and its director, James Neiderer. Rose, Neiderer, their staffs and the UVa athletics department have organized what Boland called “the most prestigious tournament that we’ve ever brought to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia in terms of our tennis program.”
Their work, Boland said, has allowed “me to focus on my team and prepare our team to play the best tennis that we possibly can. So it’s been a great luxury.”