May 22, 2017
ATHENS, Ga. — After a four-hour weather delay, a match that started outdoors at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex resumed indoors at 5 p.m. Monday, with the University of Virginia poised to continue its remarkable run under head coach Brian Boland.
Moments later, the suspense ended. Henrik Wiersholm, at No. 6 singles, needed only one point to finish off Ohio State’s Kyle Seeling and clinch a 4-2 victory for No. 2 seed Virginia in the NCAA men’s semifinals.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had [a situation] like that,” said Wiersholm, a junior.
Neither had Boland, who’s in his 16th season as Virginia’s head coach.
“I always think I’ve seen it all, but once again I’m wrong,” Boland said, smiling. “There’s also something else that you haven’t experienced before. Athens has always thrown some different kind of adversity at us, which is great, and we’re happy to be here and move on.”
The final day of the season for college tennis teams is at hand, and Tuesday will find the Cavaliers in a familiar position: playing for the NCAA title.
At 1 p.m., in a match ESPNU will televise, Virginia (33-1) meets ACC rival North Carolina (29-4), the No. 9 seed. The Wahoos are seeking their third straight NCAA championship and fourth in five seasons.
“We’re not surprised to be here,” Wiersholm said. “We’ve been here before, but now is when the real work begins, and we’re just going to go out and battle for it together and leave our hearts on the court tomorrow.”
UVA is 3-0 against UNC this season. A fourth victory over the Tar Heels would put Virginia in elite company.
Only three schools — all members of the Pac-12 — have won three (or more) consecutive titles in men’s tennis: UCLA (1952-54), Southern California (1962-64, 1966-69, 2009-12), and Stanford (1988-90, 1995-98).
Last year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wiersholm’s victory at No. 6 singles secured the NCAA title for the Cavaliers. Almost immediately afterward, he recalled Monday night, he started thinking about the possibility of a third straight crown for the `Hoos.
“And so to be back here and have the opportunity again is a blessing,” Wiersholm said.
Boland is leaving at season’s end to become head of men’s tennis for USTA Player Development. That his final team at UVA could contend for the NCAA title was apparent from the start of the year, Boland said, “but it’s not something that we spend a lot of time talking about. We just try to go out and get better every day.”
The men’s semifinals, originally scheduled to start at noon Monday, were pushed up to 10 a.m. because of an ominous weather forecast. UNC and 13th-seeded Georgia were on the Henry Feild Courts, and UVA and third-seeded Ohio State were on the McWhorter Courts.
This was not the first meeting between the `Hoos and the Buckeyes. In late February, at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, UVA defeated Ohio State 4-1 to capture the ITA National Team Indoor Championship.
The Cavaliers took the doubles point in that February match, but the Buckeyes (32-4) rallied to win that crucial point Monday. After Ohio State won 6-4 at No. 3 doubles, UVA seniors Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Alexander Ritschard battled back to win 6-4 at No. 2. But the Buckeyes prevailed in a tiebreaker at No. 1, putting UVA in an unfamiliar position.
Neither Boland nor his players panicked.
“It’s tough, but it’s something we talk about,” Boland said, “and the guys just did a good job staying in the present, doing what they can each and every point and not taking any points off. I’m just pleased with how well they focus and the professionalism which they compete with.”
In a span of eight minutes, three singles matches wrapped up, and UVA went from trailing 1-0 to leading 3-1. First, Kwiatkowski won in straight sets (6-2, 6-2) at No. 2. Junior Collin Altamirano followed with an equally emphatic (6-0, 6-3) victory at No. 4 singles, and, finally, at 12:08 p.m., senior J.C. Aragone completed a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 6.
“Certainly the momentum changed pretty quickly,” Boland said.
With three singles matches still in progress, thunder began to rumble and rain to fall. Wiersholm, who had won the first set 7-5 against Kyle Seelig, was leading 6-5 in the second and about to serve at 40-30 when, at 12:58 p.m., officials halted the proceedings.
The Cavaliers retired to the team bus, where they ate, rehydrated and focused on the challenge in front of them as the delay stretched on and on. Wiersholm took a short nap.
“There are a lot veterans and leaders on this team,” Boland said, “and we’re certainly able to stay focused throughout the course of the match, regardless of the adversity we face. That’s something we take a lot of pride in, and once again they proved they can handle whatever is in front of them.”
NCAA officials hoped to finish the matches outdoors, but another round of showers forced them to move indoors. When play finally resumed at 5 p.m., the Buckeyes’ Mikael Torpegaard won the final point of his third-set tiebreaker with Ritschard to cut UVA’s lead to 3-2. Before Ohio State fans could celebrate, however, Wiersholm finished off Seelig on the next court, and the match was over. (UNC went on to defeat Georgia 4-3.)
Four hours is a long time to prepare for a single serve, Wiersholm acknowledged.
“I game-planned it,” he said. “I changed my mind on where I was going to put it three or four times. Eventually it all worked out. At the end of the day it’s just about competing. Strategy is important, but Coach told us, `You have to go out there and compete for every point and make it a dogfight.’ ”
Now comes a fourth encounter with North Carolina. In the first, in the semifinals of the ITA National Team Indoors, Virginia defeated UNC 4-0. They met again April 9 at the Snyder Tennis Center in Charlottesville, where the `Hoos edged Carolina 4-3.
On April 29, UVA beat the Heels again by the same score, this time in the ACC tournament semifinals in Rome, Georgia.
“We love playing them,” Wiersholm said. “They’re a tremendous team. The ACC is about as strong a conference as there is in the nation. I think we’ll embrace it and know we have a lot of respect for them. We also have a ton of belief in our track record against them, and we’ll go after it. It’ll be a great battle.”
More thunderstorms are predicted for Tuesday in Athens, which means the championship match could be moved indoors.
So be it, Boland said. If that happens, “we’ll just do what we have to do,” he said. “One of the great things about this team is they adapt and they adjust well. They have a lot of maturity, and whatever is thrown at us, we’ll take care of what we need to.”