By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — This is not, by any stretch, David versus Goliath. The University of Virginia men’s tennis team, which has advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the sixth consecutive year, is the tournament’s No. 3 seed and has a 27-3 record.
Still, UVa’s opponent Monday in Waco, Texas, is host Baylor, the No. 2 seed. The 2 p.m. (Eastern) match will be played at the Hurd Tennis Center in front of a pro-Baylor crowd. Moreover, the Bears are 2-0 against the Cavaliers this season.
Baylor edged Virginia 4-3 on Feb. 14, in the quarterfinals of the ITA National Team Indoors in Chicago, and 5-2 on March 1, in a match played indoors in Waco.
“We’re the underdogs,” UVa coach Brian Boland said by phone Sunday from Waco. “We will embrace that role. We’re looking forward to the match.”
Baylor (25-5) advanced to the semifinals with a 4-2 victory Saturday over No. 7 seed Southern California, Virginia’s longtime nemesis.
UVa, which blanked Columbia 4-0 in the round of 16, eliminated sixth-seeded Texas A&M by the same score in the semifinals Saturday.
“I think we’re in a great place,” said Boland, whose record in 14 seasons at Virginia is 387-53. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
In its first encounter with UVa this season, Baylor rallied from a 3-2 deficit, winning at Nos. 3 and 5 singles to clinch the victory.
“It was just a great matchup,” Boland said.
Boland isn’t sure the results of the first two matches will have any bearing on the third. “It just gives both teams a chance to get to know each other a little bit as far as the matchups,” he said.
The Wahoos made sure not to look past any of their first four opponents in the NCAA tourney, but they knew a rematch with Baylor was a possibility, and that’s what they were hoping for.
The regular-season losses to the Bears “motivate us,” said Mitchell Frank, the only senior on Virginia’s roster.
“If anything, it actually helps us, because they have the pressure, they’re the favorites, they’re playing at home. They have everything to lose.”
That said, Frank acknowledged, Virginia does not qualify as a typical underdog. This is a program, after all, that is 47-10 in NCAA tournament matches under Boland.
The Bears are “favored,” Frank said, “but at the same time, and I’m sure they know it too, it’s not one of these lopsided matches where it’s going to take a miracle for us to win. We still believe 100 percent that we’re going to go out there and get it done.”
Frank plays No. 2 singles for Virginia. Junior Ryan Shane plays No. 1. Shane rolled his ankle Thursday against Columbia, and Boland initially worried that the injury would hinder Shane in subsequent matches. Those concerns were unfounded.
“Our [athletic] training staff is excellent,” Boland said. “They did an unbelievable job, and Ryan’s 100 percent.”
A victory Monday would send Virginia to the NCAA final for the fourth time in five seasons. The `Hoos lost to USC in 2011 and ’12 before breaking through against UCLA in ’13 to capture the program’s first NCAA championship.
Now comes a Baylor team seeking its first NCAA title since 2004.
“It’s going to be a great overall experience for everyone,” Frank said.
For Virginia, it’s an opportunity “to kind of steal the show from [the Bears] this year, in this match, but obviously it’s going to be a tough match,” Frank said. “They’re very good from top to bottom, they’re very good in doubles, but so are we.”
As for the atmosphere Monday, it’s “going to be loud, it’s going to be rowdy, and they’re probably going to have a great turnout,” Frank said. “But we’ve been through a lot of experiences this year, and we’ve preached that it’s important we make the match about tennis and nothing else.
“I think everyone has an idea of what to expect. I think we’re more looking forward to it than being worried about the atmosphere.”
Boland agreed. “It’s something I know the players will embrace and love,” he said.
In the other semifinal Monday, also at 2 p.m., top-seeded Oklahoma (28-2) takes on fifth-seeded TCU (25-7). Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU compete in the Big 12.
“We’re happy to represent the ACC in the Final Four,” Boland said.
The NCAA men’s final is scheduled to start Tuesday at 2 p.m. (Eastern) at the Hurd Tennis Center.