By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A weekend of great opportunity awaits UVa’s tennis programs.
Coach Brian Boland’s men will attempt to make history.
Coach Mark Guilbeau’s women will try to take another step toward national prominence.
The ITA’s national team indoor championships start Friday and run through Monday. The 16-team men’s tournament is in Seattle. The 16-team women’s tourney is at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville.
Boland’s team, ranked No. 1 nationally, hopes to make UVa the first school to win four straight titles in this event. (Stanford won three in a row in the mid ’70s.) The Cavaliers captured their first ITA national indoor championship, coincidentally, in Seattle in 2008.
“That was a great memory for our program and a tremendous accomplishment, and certainly we’re looking forward to getting back up to Seattle,” Boland said this week. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the team to take a trip together and play on a big stage for the first time this year.
“It’ll certainly be a good gauge to see where we’re at. In terms of where I believe we’re at right now, I feel really good about it.”
Top-seeded UVa (10-0) meets host Washington, ranked No. 29 nationally, in a first-round match 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
The Virginia women, ranked No. 23 nationally, earned an automatic invitation to the ITA event as the host team. UVa, which is at 6-0 is off to the best start in program history, meets third-seeded Baylor in the first round Friday at 12:30 p.m.
The field at the Boar’s Head includes 12 of the nation’s top 13 ranked teams. Each team in the tournament will play at least three matches.
The ITA women’s championships traditionally have been held at the University of Wisconsin, Guilbeau said, but the Boar’s Head, with UVa’s support, pursued and landed the prestigious tournament. Virginia hasn’t competed in the ITA team indoors since 1994.
“The bottom line is, to be in that draw of 16 is a great opportunity,” said Guilbeau, whose team advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round last year.
“You’re going to have a minimum of three incredible matches. And I say that knowing if you’re not prepared and you’re not a team that’s up to it, it’s really not a good thing to be involved in, because you don’t want to take three losses.
“I think we’re a team that can compete with any of these teams, and we’ve got a shot to do some good things in this tournament.”
The UVa women’s roster includes no seniors and only two juniors: Emily Fraser and Lindsey Hardenbergh. Fraser, who plays No. 1 singles and, with sophomore Hana Tomljanovic, No. 1 doubles, was named ACC co-player of the week Tuesday.
Guilbeau said his team is “about where we thought it would be. Very solid. We’re really happy that we have more depth, and the depth has been positive.”
The ITA tournament is “just a natural next step,” Guilbeau said, an opportunity “for these kids to face this type of competition, to kind of grow a little bit more. You work as hard as you can in practice, you do everything you can in your matches, but there’s nothing quite like playing the best over a three- or four-day period.”
The UVa men won their second ITA indoor title in Chicago, then made it three straight in Charlottesville last year.
“We always tell the team that we try to get an idea where we are by playing at national indoors,” Boland said. “We get to gauge how we compete against the best teams in the country. This is our first opportunity this year to play against the best, day after day, so it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Under Boland, the Wahoos have won 113 of their past 117 matches. Virginia has five of the college game’s top 25 singles players, as ranked by the ITA: No. 2 Alex Domijan, a freshman; No. 13 Sanam Singh, a senior; No. 15 Michael Shabaz, a senior; No. 23 Drew Courtney, a junior, and No. 25 Jarmere Jenkins, a sophomore.
“This team I really believe has a special element to it,” Boland said. “Michael Shabaz and Sanam Singh have done a very good job trying to be good examples and excellent leaders for us this year. Certainly we’ve had our challenges, but at the same time I’m really proud of the hard work the guys have done.
“It’s a great group of guys, and they work really hard, and they push each other to get better in practice every day. I think the coaches and the players have really focused better than ever on getting the most out of each day so we’re prepared for events like this, and we continue to work toward playing our best tennis come NCAAs.”
The ‘Hoos have advanced to the NCAA semifinals in three of the past four seasons. This team wants to be the first from UVa to win an NCAA title in tennis, and it’s willing to make sacrifices to do so.
Case in point: Boland recently split up Shabaz and Courtney, who teamed to win the NCAA doubles title last spring.
“I had detailed conversations with each player about why I believed it was in the best interest of the team to break up a [such a successful] team,” Boland said. “They were both extremely understanding and unselfish about it, and I think that says enough about the unselfishness of the team as a whole and certainly sets the tone for what’s ahead of us.”
Virginia’s new doubles pairings: Shabaz and Domijan at No. 1, Singh and Jenkins at No. 2, and Courtney and junior Steven Rooda at No. 3.
“Again, that’s what I think makes this team particularly special,” Boland said. “Not only are they a very talented and hard-working group, but they’re extremely unselfish. And I really believe that that’s ultimately going to catapult us to get the most out of the team and each individual’s ability.”