By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Forgive us if this sounds familiar: It’s mid-February, and the UVa men’s tennis team is preparing to defend its title at the ITA national indoor team championships.
“It’s not a bad story to have to keep telling,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said Wednesday.
From the Cavaliers’ perspective, that’s true. Their rivals no doubt feel differently.
A year ago in Seattle, UVa became the first school to win four consecutive ITA indoor championships. The Wahoos’ chance to run their streak to five comes this weekend at the Boar’s Head Sports Club, which is hosting the event for the second time in three seasons.
“I think the guys know it’s a special opportunity,” Boland said.
Virginia (5-0) is seeded No. 2 in the 16-team tournament, which starts Friday and ends Monday. In its first match, UVa meets No. 15 seed Auburn at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is free to all matches.
The ‘Hoos won their first ITA indoor title in Seattle, in 2008, and their second in Chicago, in 2009. They’re thrilled to have the tourney back in Charlottesville.
“There’s no question it’s an advantage for us, playing at home in front of the best fans in college tennis,” Boland said.
UVa has won 92 matches in a row at home, and “I think that says a great deal about what incredible fan support we have and how much the players appreciate and thrive on playing in front of fans on their home court,” Boland said.
The ITA tournament features 16 of the nation’s top 20 teams. The top seed is Southern California, which edged UVa 4-3 for the NCAA title last spring. The NCAA tourney is played outdoors, and that’s the championship Virginia would most like to capture. That does not, however, diminish the importance of the ITA team indoors to the Cavaliers, whose record under Boland is a staggering 279-45.
“I think the guys understand that we’re all hoping to play our best tennis in May at the NCAA championships,” Boland said. “But my philosophy’s always been that you prepare and compete as hard as you can in any match.”
From the team that finished 34-1 last year, UVa lost Sanam Singh and Michael Shabaz, but newcomers this season include Mitchell Frank, who won two major singles titles in the fall: the ITA All-American and the USTA/ITA National Indoor.
“He’s been an incredible force already as a first-year,” Boland said.
Frank, who has been dealing with a minor injury, is healthy again and will play No. 3 singles this weekend. Rounding out Virginia’s top six are junior Jarmere Jenkins at No. 1, sophomore Alex Domijan at No. 2, senior Drew Courtney at No. 4, sophomore Justin Shane at No. 5, and junior Julen Uriguen at No. 6. (Seniors Phillippe Oudshoorn and Steven Rooda also could play in the top six.)
UVa’s top three doubles teams: Jenkins and Courtney at No. 1, Domijan and Rooda at No. 2, and Frank and Uriguen at No. 3. (Shane and Oudshoorn form another team that could play this weekend.)
“I’m really pleased with where our team’s at,” Boland said. “I think we’re a little bit ahead of schedule.”
That’s partly a result, he believes, of the three weeks UVa spent training in Florida in early January. The ‘Hoos were based in Fort Lauderdale, and they played in two tournaments and one dual match on clay. The team returned to Charlottesville in much better physical condition, Boland said.
“It’s such a physical game on clay,” he said. “It really helped us. I think it really got our season off to a great start.”
Even more so than in previous years, Boland said, he’s trying to make his team “uncomfortable” during the regular season. That way, when the ‘Hoos face adversity during the ACC and NCAA tournaments, they’ll be better prepared to overcome it.
And so Boland scheduled early-season matches against three of the other teams in the ITA field: No. 5 seed Florida, No. 11 seed Texas A&M, and No. 14 seed Texas. The Cavaliers aced each test. On successive days, starting Feb. 3, they whipped Texas 7-0, Florida 6-1 and Texas A&M 6-1, respectively, at the Boar’s Head Sports Club.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Boland said. “It’s been a great season so far, and [the ITA event] will be just another test.”