By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — It has become a rite of winter for the UVa men’s tennis team, winning the ITA National Indoor Championships.
The Cavaliers captured their first ITA team title in 2008, in Seattle. They won again in ’09, this time in Chicago, and then triumphed in Charlottesville last year to make it three in a row.
No team had ever won four consecutive ITA indoor championships before this year, but the Wahoos now stand alone in the annals of college tennis. They collected another ITA crown last week in the city where their run began, Seattle.
“Each one is special,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said of the titles.
In 2008 and again in ’09, UVa edged UCLA 4-3 to advance to the ITA semifinals. There was no such drama in this year’s tournament.
The ‘Hoos whipped host Washington 4-1 in the first round, Illinois 4-1 in the quarterfinals and Ohio State 4-1 in the semifinals. In the championship match, Virginia blanked Tennessee 4-0.
“I think I was most impressed that we faced so many adverse situations and how well the players handled it,” Boland said.
UVa’s first two matches started late at night, and Boland’s players had not been in the Pacific Northwest long enough for their body clocks to have adjusted to the time change. That didn’t faze the Cavaliers (14-0).
In none of its first three matches did Virginia lose the doubles point. The team’s new doubles lineup — senior Michael Shabaz and freshman Alex Domijan at No. 1, senior Sanam Singh and sophomore Jarmere Jenkins at No. 2, juniors Drew Courtney and Steven Rooda at No. 3 — could not have had a much impressive debut.
“Last year we struggled a little bit more in doubles [at the ITA tourney], particularly in the final,” Boland said.
Shabaz and Courtney teamed to win the NCAA doubles title last spring, so the decision to split them wasn’t easy for UVa’s coaching staff.
“It was a risk we took, and it really turned out well,” Boland said. “The chemistry and the energy which these teams bring to the court is at a higher level than what we were producing [with the previous pairings]. Every move we make is with the goal of peaking at the end of the season and trying to find ways to get better collectively and individually.”
The Cavaliers celebrated their latest crown before leaving Seattle, and they accepted congratulations from friends and classmates after returning to Charlottesville. Their focus now, though, is on the future, not the past.
“Now it’s on the outdoor season,” said Boland, whose team’s next match is March 9 at LSU.
“What we were able to accomplish in Seattle was impressive, but we’re aware of how much we can improve. Ultimately our goal is to play our best tennis in May.”
That, of course, is when the NCAA championships are held each year. Boland’s team has been ousted in the semifinals in three of the past four seasons, and the school has never won an NCAA title in tennis.
A lot can happen between now and May, but Boland has every reason to be confident about this team’s chances.
Shabaz, who plays No. 1 singles for the Cavaliers, was recently named to the U.S. team that will face Chile in the first round of the 2011 Davis Cup, March 4-6.
The 6-7 Domijan is the No. 2-ranked singles player in college tennis. He was named most outstanding player of the ITA indoor team championships after posting a 4-0 singles record in Seattle, winning in straight sets each time.
Domijan beat No. 42 Kyle McMorrow of Washington, No. 33 Johnny Hamui of Illinois, No. 21 Chase Buchanan of Ohio State and, finally, No. 17 John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee.
“For a freshman to go in and accomplish what he did in his first national team championship is really impressive,” Boland said. “I just could not be more impressed with Alex’s play.”
Boland could have said the same thing about his team’s performance in Seattle.
“Obviously this tournament gives us a lot of confidence,” he said. “It’s always a challenging event to win.”