May 14, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As his players warmed up before his final home match as the University of Virginia’s head men’s tennis coach, Brian Boland watched from the side of the court, his emotions hidden.
“It’s all good,” Boland told a friend at the Snyder Tennis Center.
Saturday marked a final chapter in Charlottesville not only for Boland, who’s leaving after the season to become head of men’s tennis for USTA Player Development, but for the Cavaliers’ four seniors: Alexander Ritschard, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, J.C. Aragone and Luca Corinteli.
“What these guys have accomplished here is remarkable,” Boland said. “They came in as freshmen, and they certainly had a lot to learn, and they grew and developed both as players and people throughout the four years, and it showed in terms of how much they embraced the process of Virginia men’s tennis.”
Since that group joined the program in the summer of 2013, the Wahoos have twice been crowned NCAA champions, and they’ll have an opportunity to win a third title this month in Athens, Georgia.
Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 for the 14th consecutive year Saturday with a 4-0 victory over Columbia. UVA (30-1), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, will meet No. 15 seed Florida (19-9) at 9 a.m. Thursday at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.
“I think we’re in a good place,” said Kwiatkowski, who plays No. 2 singles and, with Ritschard, No. 2 doubles for Virginia.
“We’ve got an important week coming up here to keep practicing and get healthy, but I think we’re doing the right things and we’re going to peak, starting next week.”
The fourth-year class was not singled out Saturday. That occurred on April 13 at the Snyder Tennis Center during the Cavaliers’ last home ACC match. After Kwiatwoski and Ritschard clinched the doubles point for UVA against Georgia Tech, a Senior Day ceremony was held, and it tested the composure of the fourth-years.
“Tell me about it,” Aragone said.
“That was an emotional roller-coaster,” Corinteli said. “It was kind of hard for a lot of the seniors to handle it, so I think it was pretty good that we got that out of the way and were able to handle it a lot better today.
“We’re really focused. We really have one goal in mind, and we were able to execute on all cylinders today.”
Even so, Corintelli said, the knowledge that he was playing in Charlottesville for the last time as a Cavalier was never far away from his thoughts.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “It’s gone by so fast.”
In the NCAA tourney’s first round, Virginia defeated Monmouth 4-0 on Friday afternoon. That dual match had to be played indoors at the Boar’s Head Sports Club because of wet weather. The rain moved out of the area on Saturday morning, allowing the second-round match to be played outdoors in front of a large, appreciative crowd.
The Cavaliers needed less than two hours to oust the Lions on a cool, breezy afternoon.
“It was a great day,” Aragone said. “The weather kind of turned around on us, and we had a beautiful day out here to play some tennis.”
Corintelli teamed with freshman Carl Soderlund at No. 1 doubles, and they needed only 25 minutes to post a 6-1 victory Saturday. Five minutes later, Kwiatkowski and Ritschard won at No. 2 to secure the doubles point for the Cavaliers.
“There’s little bit of happiness and a little bit of sadness,” Ritschard said. “I’m happy to be out here to play with my teammates and my coaches and everyone, and of course in front of the `Hoo fans.
“But it’s definitely tough emotionally to consider this is the last official match here on these courts.”
Kwiatkowski said: “We were definitely thinking about that before the match, and we just wanted to go out and really enjoy the last time we were out there.
“It’s sad, because I love playing here, but I think we’re ready to go to Athens now.”
During the seniors’ college careers, UVA lost only once in Charlottesville: to North Carolina in the final of last year’s ITA National Team Indoors Championship at the Boar’s Head.
Virginia hasn’t lost a home match outdoors since April 7, 2006.
“Snyder’s been unbelievable to us,” said Boland, who’s in his 16th season at UVA.
Corinteli said: “The tennis community in Charlottesville is huge, and the fans have been unbelievable. We’ve had so much success here. It’s been really, really special, and I feel really lucky to have been part of a program like this.”
For Boland, playing “at Snyder has been very meaningful to me. I spent so many years here and have so many great memories,” he said. “That’s probably going to hit me sometime tonight or tomorrow.”
Not until he’s in Athens, though, will Boland fully grasp the finality of his situation, he said. In Georgia, the Cavaliers’ cheering section will include many of his former players, one of whom, Drew Courtney, embraced Boland after the match Saturday in Charlottesville.
“What these young men have been able to do, both former and current players, throughout the years is incredible,” Boland said. “This is a program that has continued to create a consistent result year after year. That’s something I’m most proud of, and that’s a tribute to all the players.”
Asked if he’s noticed any changes in his head coach recently, Aragone thought for a second and then smiled.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot more hugs than I normally would — or maybe want,” Aragone said. “But he’s just very excited, very happy. I don’t think anything can really get him down in the next couple weeks. He’s just happy to be out here.”
In 2013, the Cavaliers captured the program’s first NCAA title in Urbana, Illinois. In 2015 they were crowned in Waco, Texas, and in 2016 they won in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The NCAA tournament’s final four rounds haven’t been held in Athens since 2014, when Southern California eliminated UVA in the semifinals.
“For sure, we have a little bitter taste in our mouth from Athens,” Aragone said. “The last time we played we didn’t really do as well as we wanted to. But Athens is an amazing place, with a beautiful facility. Hopefully we can have redemption.”
Ritschard said: “Obviously that’s the dream. That’s the best scenario, but right now we’re going to take it one match at a time and see what happens.”