By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On a splendid spring afternoon, Ryan Shane sat in the sunshine outside the courts at the Snyder Tennis Center and reflected on his remarkable journey at the University of Virginia.
That he has become one of the nation’s top players, Shane said, does not really surprise him. He entered UVA in 2012 with ambitious goals he was confident he could eventually reach. Others, however, had more modest expectations for Shane, a graduate of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Northern Virginia.
“My hope was that he would develop his game enough to contribute,” UVA head coach Brian Boland said. “I certainly believed he had a great deal of potential, but I did not have in mind that he was going to be our No. 1 player and win an NCAA championship as well as be such a tremendous leader.”
Shane’s breakthrough was not immediate.
“I’ve taken steps,” said Shane, a foreign affairs major. “I always knew I had the game, but I just needed to figure out a lot of other things, mental and physical, and have the coaches work with me.”
As a freshman in 2013, he was among the non-participating players when Virginia won its first NCAA team title in men’s tennis. Shane had played in the quarterfinals and semifinals in Urbana, Ill., but Boland opted to use Shane’s older brother, Justin, in singles against UCLA in the final.
As a sophomore, Ryan Shane posted a 28-7 record in singles and ended the year ranked No. 43 nationally. Last year, he became only the second Cavalier to win an NCAA singles title. (Somdev Devvarman was crowned in 2007 and ’08).
“What an honor for me to be able to coach this guy,” Boland said.
To call Shane’s career arc improbable might be an understatement.
“I believe you would have a hard time finding another player that won an NCAA singles championship and did not start for most of his freshman year,” Boland said.
Shane, one of the Wahoos’ co-captains, along with classmate Mac Styslinger, is now entrenched as the team’s top player. He’s ranked No. 9 nationally in singles and, with junior Luca Corinteli, No. 3 in doubles.
“I’m sad it’s coming to an end,” Shane said of his college career, “but I hope we end it on the right note.”
Defending NCAA champion Virginia closes the regular season this weekend with two ACC dual matches at the Snyder Tennis Center.
At 3 p.m. Friday, top-ranked UVA (20-3, 9-1) hosts No. 7 Wake Forest (25-4, 9-1), with the ACC regular-season championship at stake.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, Virginia takes on Miami (7-12, 2-7). A Senior Day ceremony in which Shane, Styslinger and Jonathan Cornish are to be honored will be held between the doubles and singles matches.
The ACC tournament is next week in Cary, N.C., after which the `Hoos will officially launch their pursuit of a second straight NCAA crown.
For Shane, this has been a challenging season on a personal level. Not only has he dealt with several nagging injuries, but as the reigning NCAA singles champion he’s been a target of opposing players.
In previous seasons, Shane said, “I honestly do think I snuck up on a lot of people. I was kind of a no-name kid back then. I could just play and swing for the ball and had no pressure. It was a big change this year. Everyone, obviously, wants to beat an NCAA champion, because it gives them a little chip on the shoulder if they can beat me.”
Shane’s singles record in duals is 12-8 this season, and he’s lost three matches this month: to North Carolina’s Brayden Schnur, Florida’s Diego Hidalgo and Georgia Tech’s Christopher Eubanks.
“He’s probably gotten a little humbled lately,” Virginia teammate J.C. Aragone said, “but he’s been super-positive about a couple of his losses. They’ve all been really tight matches to [talented] opponents. He’s there. He’s in every match. He’s been the hunted most of the year, so people want to beat him, but I think he’s starting to play to his strengths, and this is the right time of the season to do it.”
His setbacks notwithstanding, Shane is as healthy as he’s been has all year, and he believes he’ll benefit in the coming weeks from the challenges he’s faced during the regular season.
“If I had come back [this season] expecting to win every match, I’d probably be in shambles right now, breaking down,” Shane said. “I knew it was going to be a tough year and everybody was going to play their best against me.”
His powerful serve has been inconsistent, and he’s struggled with some of his shots, Shane acknowledged.
“But it’s definitely helped to be able to lose and turn it around and say, `What did I do wrong here? What could I have done better, and what can I fix?’ “he said. “Whereas if I’m undefeated right now and we go into the postseason and I’m down a set and a break and I have no idea what’s happening, that’s going to cost the team a lot more.”
Corinteli, a junior, is from Alexandria and has known Shane for about a decade.
“Our relationship has always been good, but ever since we started playing doubles here, it’s just gone to another level,” Corinteli said. “He’s become one of my best friends, and it’s a pleasure to play with him.”
Corinteli was not at UVA in 2012-13, but he’s talked to others in the program about Shane’s play that season.
“He was so raw coming in as a freshman,” Corinteli said. “Everybody saw a bunch of talent and saw a lot of power. He’s really turned it around. He’s matured. He’s soaked in the experience, and with the help of the coaches here, he’s really been able to develop on and off the court, and I think it’s helped him tremendously.”
His first year at UVA, Shane recalled, “I think I was a little unrealistic with my goals. But my second year, I just said, `I want to give my all, help the team in any way I can, just to try to develop into being a better person off the court, and on the court.’ ”
As a freshman, Shane often quarreled with opponents on the court. “I remember in NCAAs, when they put me in — I think it was the quarters — I was yelling at my opponent and starting fights,” he said. “My second year, coming back, I wanted to give my all and develop into a better person.”
Aragone, a junior, said he’s seen Shane evolve over the past three years.
“He’s kind of an introvert, and I’ve seen him turn into more of an extrovert over the years,” Aragone. “He’s hung out with more of the guys. He’s really kind of become more of a team player, and I think it’s great that he’s a captain. I think he’s done a great job of it, and I hope he keeps improving, because we’ve got a long way to go this season.”
Boland said: “Ryan has continued to develop on so many levels.”
As a sophomore, Shane became a fixture in the Cavaliers’ lineup, and “then by his third year you could see him really start to take off and evolve,” Boland said.
“And then he ended up, as we all know, winning the national championship at the end of last year, which I think brought a different set of challenges that he was unaware of and had never been through. But he’s starting to settle into it all now and accept it, and I really believe that it’s going to help him tremendously on the professional tour, because I think the two biggest issues with someone trying to compete at the highest level are certainly their physicality, as well as their character. And there’s no question that Ryan has a tremendous amount of character.
“This young man is a true winner in every sense of the word. He has been a tremendous leader for our program, and he has as much character and integrity as any player that’s ever played for me. I really think the world of him, and it’s been an incredible blessing for me to coach someone who I hold in such high regard.”
DOUBLING UP: Also at 3 p.m. Friday, the 13th-ranked Virginia women’s tennis meets ACC rival Pitt (7-11, 1-11) at the Snyder Tennis Center. The Cavaliers are 12-9 overall and 7-5 in ACC play.
Admission to the matches is free, and free parking is available in the Culbreth Garage. The first 400 fans will receive free Virginia Athletics water bottles.