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April 11, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — As his singles match progressed at last year’s NCAA men’s tennis championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the University of Virginia’s Henrik Wiersholm averted his eyes from the scoreboard.

He knew the Cavaliers were closing in on a second straight NCAA team title, but Wiersholm tried to stay focused on his battle with Oklahoma’s Andre Biro at No. 6 singles.

“That’s one of the toughest things to do, to not look at that scoreboard,” Wiersholm said. “It’s brutal.”

When he won a tiebreaker to capture a two-set victory over Biro, Wiersholm did some quick math in his head and figured he might have put the Wahoos over the top. He received confirmation a moment later. He looked up and saw his jubilant teammates running toward him.

“It was an experience I definitely will never forget,” Wiersholm said. “I’ve seen the video of it, and you can almost see my look of shock, like, `Wait, did we just do it?’ “

Wiersholm, now a junior, embraces such opportunities. On Sunday, his victory at No. 5 singles lifted fourth-ranked Virginia to a 4-3 win over No. 11 North Carolina at the Snyder Tennis Center.

After dropping the first set to UNC’s Jack Murray, Wiersholm won the second set 6-3 and the third 6-4.

“He’s a really intelligent young man that exudes a tremendous amount of composure in the biggest moments,” UVA head coach Brian Boland said. “I love being able to coach him throughout the course of matches in the big moments, because he always has an ability to have a clear head and be able to think and make adjustments as we go throughout the match.

“The great thing about Henrik and his game is he’s a full-court player, so he has the ability to make adjustments and execute. So he’s one of those players that not only has a lot going for him mentally, in his ability to stay composed and think clearly, but he has the versatility and options to make adjustments.”

Wiersholm, who was born in San Francisco, moved when he was young with his family to Kirkland, Washington. Kirkland is across Lake Washington from Seattle.

UVA doesn’t have many students from the Seattle area, Wiersholm said, “but I’ll definitely see [some] when I’m walking around. They’ll be wearing a Seahawks jersey or something, so I’ll just say, `Let’s go, Seahawks!’ and get to talking to them. It’s pretty cool.”

As a highly ranked junior player, Wiersholm spent his high school years at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Florida, as did UVA teammates Luca Corinteli and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.

Wiersholm’s coaches in the USTA program included Andres Pedroso, who joined Boland’s staff at UVA as an assistant in August 2010. Wiersholm already was aware of the Cavaliers’ success under Boland, and Pedroso’s presence in Charlottesville added to the school’s appeal.

“I knew Andres well,” Wiershold recalled, “and he reached out to me and started recruiting me, and consequently Brian started recruiting me. I got to know Brian throughout the recruiting process, and already had a lot of trust in Andres, and just from meeting Brian and getting to know what the team was all about and everything, I was completely sold on it.”

Initially, though, Wiersholm thought he’d be a Blue Devil.

“I went on an official visit before to Duke, and I was like, `Mom, I’ve got to go to Duke. It’s beautiful here. It’s amazing,’ ” Wiersholm recalled. “And then I went on an official here. I called my mom and I said, `Mom, it’s a done deal. I’m going to UVA. There’s no chance I can see myself anywhere else.’ “

His UVA experience has been rewarding. Wiersholm, 20, is in the prestigious McIntire School of Commerce, where he’s concentrating on marketing and management.

“In my opinion, at least, there’s no better breeding ground for successful tennis players — and successful people in general — than Charlottesville,” Wiersholm said. “The combination of academics and athletics and then the community here, in my opinion it’s unparalleled.”

On the court, Wiersholm had to be patient. It didn’t matter that he’d arrived at UVA with sterling credentials.

“I had a really successful junior career,” Wiersholm said, “and I didn’t play my first year. I was our seventh man, in case someone got injured.

“And so that just tells you at what level our program has been. And I definitely think that it takes a certain kind of person to look past that short-term stuff and see the long-term vision of the program that we’ve had.”

His first year at UVA, Wiersholm said, was about “learning humility, learning how to put the ego aside, learning to play for others, and just refocusing on different aspects [such as]: Why do I play? Who am I as an individual?

“I learned so much about myself, and the coaches were so supportive, that it was so easy to buy into the culture of everything.”

Wiersholm, of course, was not the first heralded recruit to have to wait his turn at UVA. That Boland’s players consistently put the team’s goals before their own is a major reason the ‘Hoos have won three of the past four NCAA championships.

“Once people learn in life that you’re only as good as the people around you that support you, and you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, and you experience that, it becomes incredibly special,” Boland said.

“This program is not about any one coach or one person. It’s way bigger than that, and when you’re around these type of people day in and day out, that exude a winning attitude and a positive energy, you want to be part of something like that.”

Boland has built a program that transcends tennis. Wiersholm and Kwiatkowski are in the Comm School, and men’s tennis annually posts one of the highest GPAs of any Virginia team.

The key, Boland said, is to “bring in people that are highly competitive, that want to achieve, and then they get in that culture and they push each other to be better each and every day.

“You’re on a team where everybody takes academics seriously, where the coaching staff respects and makes academics a priority within the program. And the players realize what an incredible opportunity it is to get one of the best degrees in the world, and they become competitive with it, just like anything else, and they want to make sure that they learn so they can maximize their impact well beyond their time at the University of Virginia.”

Wiersholm plans to work in business one day. Upon graduating from UVA in 2018, however, he intends to pursue a professional career in tennis, “just because I think that’s the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” he said.

“I can go and enter the business world at any time after that, and I have a lot of confidence in myself, but I have only one opportunity to really go after [a tennis career] and pursue a dream that I’ve had since I was young.”

He smiled. “It’s not a bad way to live: traveling the world and playing tennis and competing,” Wiersholm said. “So I’m going to do that, and we’ll see what happens afterward, but to have done McIntire will set a really nice base for whatever comes after tennis.”

In singles this year, Wiersholm has a 14-0 record. He’s 2-0 at No. 4, 5-0 at No. 5, and 7-0 at No. 6. In doubles, he’s 6-2 when playing with Corinteli and 0-2 with senior J.C. Aragone.

The `Hoos will play three dual matches in the next eight days, two of them at the Snyder Tennis Center. Virginia hosts Georgia Tech at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, plays at Boston College at 11 a.m. Saturday, and then entertains Richmond at 4 p.m. on April 18.

For Boland, this is the final chapter of a remarkable story that began in August 2001, when he was named head coach at UVA. He announced late last month that this will be his final season at Virginia. Boland is leaving to become head of men’s tennis for USTA Player Development.

“We found out when everyone else found out,” Wiersholm said. “It was a little bit surprising and unexpected, but that’s the way that things are. I’m super happy for him, No. 1, and the opportunity that he’s going to have. More than anything, I’m just thankful for the time that I’ve had with him and the coaches.”

If the players were stunned at first by Boland’s decision, Wiersholm said, now “it’s back to work. We have a job to do, and I’m just really excited to make the most out of this season, and then looking forward to continuing to work [in 2017-18].”

Boland will miss many things about Charlottesville, particularly his interactions with players such as Wiersholm.

“He’s an awesome kid,” Boland said. “He could be President of the United States one day. Don’t be surprised.”

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