May 19, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Two years ago in Urbana, Ill., with UVa and UCLA tied 3-3 and the NCAA title at stake, there was heart-pounding tension as Mitchell Frank, trailing 5-3 in the third and final set, fought off match point.
Frank, then a sophomore, rallied to win that game, and then the next three, to clinch Virginia’s first NCAA team championship in men’s tennis.
Tuesday in Waco, Texas, the Cavaliers captured another NCAA title, and again Frank secured the crown for his team with a singles victory, this one over Oklahoma.
On this afternoon, though, there was considerably less drama than in 2013. Frank defeated Oklahoma’s Andrew Harris in straight sets (7-5, 7-5) on Tuesday.
“I was kind of relaxed,” Frank said at the postmatch press conference, “given I was in that [same] spot in a more intense situation a couple years ago.”
Virginia was in command almost from the start Tuesday in a match that lasted about three hours and 15 minutes. In doubles, the second and third matches ended simultaneously, and all three of UVa’s teams won: sophomore Luca Corinteli and junior Ryan Shane at No. 1, sophomore Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and junior Mac Styslinger at No. 2, and Altamirano and sophomore J.C. Aragone at No. 3.
The third-seeded Wahoos then shifted their focus to singles, where they needed to beat top-seeded Oklahoma in three of the six matches to secure another NCAA title.
The victories came from Altamirano, Kwiatkowski and Frank, at Nos. 3, 4 and 2, respectively. It all added up to an emphatic 4-1 victory over the Sooners at the Hurd Tennis Complex on the Baylor University campus.
“All right, boys, it’s yours,” UVa head coach Brian Boland said before handing the championship trophy to Frank, the team’s captain and the lone senior on the roster.
Boland, still on the court, then took the microphone and addressed the crowd.
“Those guys, the players, that’s what it’s all about,” said Boland, whose record in 14 seasons at Virginia is 389-53, including a 49-10 mark in the NCAA tournament.
“Those guys bought into the culture and have done an unbelievable job this year, and I’m so proud of them and their hard work and their willingness to come out each and every day and make another better and push each other to the limit.”
The `Hoos, who last month won their ninth consecutive ACC championship, lost three matches during the regular season: two to Baylor and the other to Oklahoma. They avenged those defeats on the college game’s biggest stage.
On Monday afternoon, the `Hoos ousted second-seeded Baylor 4-2 to advance to the NCAA final for the fourth time in five seasons. Twenty-four hours later, Virginia (29-3) knocked off the Sooners (29-3), whose head coach, John Roddick, is one of Boland’s closest friends in the profession.
“They played a better match,” Roddick said of the Cavaliers. “They played really good tennis. We definitely had our chances, but they played a great doubles point against us, and they were very deserving today and this week. People didn’t really talk about them as much as they normally do, and I think us and Baylor were at the top [of the rankings] for the whole year. But we knew Virginia was right there, and we knew going in that they were going to be maybe the team to beat, at least from our vantage point.”
For Virginia, the NCAA team title is the 22nd in school history and the second in 2014-15. In December, the men’s soccer team was crowned NCAA champion for the seventh time.
Against Baylor, UVa dropped the doubles point but stormed back in singles. Winners against the Bears (25-6) were Shane at No. 1, Frank at No. 2, Altamirano at No. 3 and Aragone at No. 6.
In the 70-year history of the NCAA men’s tennis tourney, only six schools have won multiple titles: Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Georgia, William & Mary, and, now, Virginia.
That Frank’s victory put the Cavaliers in that select group Tuesday seemed only fitting. During a career in which he won the ITA All-American singles title twice and the USTA/ITA National Indoor singles title once, Frank established himself as one of the greatest players in UVa history, and he may earn more accolades before he leaves Waco.
Frank is one of three Cavaliers, along with Shane and Kwiatkowski, who will compete in the 64-player NCAA singles tournament, which starts Wednesday at Baylor. (Shane and Corinteli are in the 32-team doubles tournament.)
“Mitchell and I have been together for four years and I can’t tell you how much I am going to miss this guy,” Boland told reporters.
“I said it last time we won a national championship, that if there was one player I’d love to have on the court at the end clinching the match, it is Mitchell Frank. He is a warrior and he loves the game. He puts his heart and soul into it every day, and to his credit he really put the team above himself this year and was extremely unselfish in his approach. I think he learned a lot, and it has been an unbelievable journey.”