By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the road, against a favored opponent that rarely loses the doubles point, fifth-seeded Tennessee needed only 45 minutes to take a 1-0 lead in the final of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s national indoor team championships Monday.
In front of a disbelieving crowd at the Boar’s Head Sports Club, UVa’s Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz lost their match 8-1. Another Virginia duo, Houston Barrick and Jarmere Jenkins, lost 8-2.
“We didn’t get beat,” Barrick said Tuesday. “We got destroyed.”
And so it was a shaken UVa team that trudged back to its locker room to try to regroup before the singles matches.
“It was pretty quiet, just because [doubles] went by so quick,” senior Lee Singer said. “Everybody was a little stunned.”
Enter Brian Boland, who let his players know, in no uncertain terms, that their effort displeased him. If the Volunteers maintained their momentum, Boland said, the second-seeded Wahoos would have no chance of winning a third straight ITA indoor title.
“I’m not one of those coaches that does a lot of yelling,” Boland said, so his outburst made an impression on his players.
“I think he really got us fired up,” Singer said. “We normally don’t see that side of him.”
Barrick said: “I don’t think I’d seen him like that in a couple years. He was a little fiery, but that’s what we needed. He gave us a spark.”
Back on the Boyd Tinsley Courts, the ‘Hoos torched Tenneessee, winning five of the six first sets in singles.
“All the work [the Vols had] done in doubles, we cancelled out early in the singles,” Barrick said. “That just kind of neutralized them.”
The Cavaliers’ intensity never wavered. Barrick, a senior, was the first to finish, winning 6-2, 6-4 at No. 5 singles. Then came Singer, who won 6-2, 7-5 at No. 6.
At No. 1, Shabaz whipped John-Patrick Smith, who came in ranked second nationally, 6-4, 6-4.
At No. 4, Courtney secured the national championship for the ‘Hoos. The 6-5 sophomore from Northern Virginia closed out his opponent in three sets, giving UVa a 4-1 victory and triggering a wild celebration.
“The most exciting part is when you get to rush your teammate after he clinches,” Barrick said. “These last two years it’s been Drew. There’s no greater moment than that.”
UVa won its first ITA indoor title in 2008. That was in Seattle. A year later, the ‘Hoos won in Chicago. Virginia is only the second school to capture the tournament three consecutive times.
To do so at home made the feat that much more satisfying for the Cavaliers.
The first two years “we’ve had to travel afterward,” Barrick said, “and you get back and you’re tired. It’s fun, but it’s not just the same thing as when you play at home.”
Singer said: “That’s probably the best thing about this one. Especially Saturday night against Georgia. That was unbelievable. I’ve never played before a crowd like that.”
A Boar’s Head-record crowd of 1,250 saw Virginia crush longtime nemesis Georgia 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
“Every day was great, but Saturday, I think [the overflow crowd] just added to the whole spectacle of playing Georgia,” Barrick said.
The Bulldogs have dominated the series, so “it wasn’t a rivalry before,” Barrick said. “But we’re doing our best to turn it into one.”
Another raucous crowd turned out Sunday to watch UVa eliminate third-seeded Ohio State 4-1 in the semifinals.
“We just have great fans, and they provide so much energy. I’ve always believed we have the best fans in college tennis,” Boland said.
“And even on Monday at noon, we had a packed house. To think that a noon championship on a Monday would have a packed house is amazing, and I think it’s a testament to how great our fans are and how dedicated and loyal they are to our program and how much they believe in the kids and love watching them.”
Sixteen teams competed in the ITA indoor championships. The No. 13 seed was Kentucky, which lost to fourth-seeded UCLA in the first round. That’s the same Kentucky team that upset UVa 4-3 on Feb. 6.
Boland wasn’t sure how his players would respond to that setback. Consider him impressed.
“I think they were tested in terms of their ability to deal with adversity and get back up after getting knocked down, and that says a lot about their character and their resilience and their ability to get back at it and work hard and be successful,” Boland said.
UVa’s only senior starters are Barrick and Singer, whom Boland called “unbelievable leaders.”
The team’s juniors, Shabaz and Sanam Singh, have never been to an ITA national indoor tournament that UVa didn’t win.
“They’re 3 for 3, and they can go for the 4-peat next year,” Barrick noted with a laugh. “But I’ll take 3 for 4. That’s not terrible.”