By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia men’s tennis team will play in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen at the Boar’s Head Resort on Saturday afternoon. At the same time, the UVA women’s team will play in the same round of its NCAA tournament, some 560 miles away in Ann Arbor, Mich.

A year ago, both teams advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals, and the Virginia men went on to capture the title for the fifth time. The Cavaliers’ director of tennis, Andres Pedroso, is also head coach of the men’s team, so he won’t be in Michigan on Saturday. But he’ll be pulling for his counterpart, Sara O’Leary, and her team.

“Sara and I have always believed that when one program is doing well, it’s really good for the other program,” Pedroso said. “I really think that if both teams are working together, things that are happening on one team translate toward the other team, and it’s only positive and beneficial for everyone.”

This marks the third straight season that both UVA teams have reached the third round of their respective NCAA tournaments. The two programs are close, and it’s “been a total team effort,” Pedroso said. “I was dead on when it came to Sara’s character when we decided to hire her as the head women’s tennis coach. She’s just been an incredible partner in this project, and I’m really proud of what she’s done with her team.”

Pedroso said he loves the way the UVA women’s team “fights. That’s just been kind of a staple characteristic of her team: their toughness, their competitiveness. Every single match they play, they either win or they give themselves a chance to win. They never go down easy. When you play Virginia women’s tennis, it’s always a war, and we take pride in that on the men’s side, too.”

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the 12th-seeded UVA women (20-6) take on No. 5 seed Michigan (24-3) in Ann Arbor. This will be the teams’ second meeting this season. In February, in the ITA National Team Indoor Championship’s round of 16, the Wolverines defeated the Wahoos 4-2 in Seattle.

“It was definitely a very competitive match,” O’Leary said this week.

The Cavaliers weren’t at full strength that day. Julia Adams, who usually plays No. 1 singles, was ill. She gutted out her doubles match with partner Melodie Collard but wasn’t able to play singles. That meant the other players in UVA’s singles lineup each moved up a spot.

“And so it’s actually going to be mostly completely different match-ups this time,” O’Leary said. “But even without Julia that first time, the match was very competitive, so we’re definitely excited to have another shot at Michigan.”

O’Leary’s team played its first two NCAA tournament matches at the Virginia Tennis Facility at the Boar’s Head. Hoos opened with a 4-0 win over LIU and then defeated Princeton by the same score in the round of 32.

The win over the Tigers reminded her, O’Leary said, “just how resilient and tough” her players are. “Princeton’s a very good team, and I thought they played and competed really well, but I definitely didn’t feel like we played our best tennis. But seeing the way [UVA’s players] handled being a little uncomfortable out there, being pushed, especially when you’re not playing your best, I thought they handled it really well, and I think that’s going to give them confidence going into this weekend.”

Adams is a graduate transfer from Furman, and this is her first trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Several of the other Cavaliers, however, have experience on this stage, including Natasha Subhash, Elaine Chervinsky, Hibah Shaikh and Sara Ziodato.

“I think it helps a lot any time you’re in that situation and playing in the round of 16,” O’Leary said. “Natasha, Hibah, they both have played in the round of 16 the past two years. Sara Ziodato did it last year, so we definitely have leaders on our team who have been in these moments and understand what it’s like and understand how to take it on. Hopefully they lead this weekend, but I have confidence in them and I’m very excited and thankful that we do have that experience.”

Sara O'Leary with her players

Virginia went into the NCAA men’s tournament as the No. 5 seed. As one of the tournament’s top eight seeds, the Hoos were assured of playing at home if they reached the third round, and they’re thrilled to be back at the Boar’s Head for one final match this season.

“It’s home soil,” said Jeffrey von der Schulenburg, a key member of the junior class that has helped Virginia win three straight ACC titles. “You practice on these courts every day. You feel more at home, so it’s definitely an advantage.”

At 1 p.m. Saturday, in a rematch of the ACC final, Virginia (26-4) takes on No. 12 seed Duke (22-6). The Cavaliers have won 18 straight matches since losing to Ohio State on Feb. 19 at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Chicago. Nine of those matches were at the Boar’s Head.

“There’s a lot of history at home, a lot we’ve accomplished, a lot of great stories to turn to and remind guys of our competitiveness and our toughness and how hard we’ve worked on the practice courts,” Pedroso said. “It’s always good vibes when we’re playing at the Boar’s Head.”

This will be the third time Virginia and Duke have clashed this season. In March, the Cavaliers blanked the Blue Devils 7-0 in Charlottesville. In the ACC final, UVA won 4-1 in Cary, N.C.

“We’re ready for a battle,” Pedroso said. “Duke is a great team. They compete really hard, and they’ve had an incredible season. I have a lot of respect for their head coach and their assistant coaches. We’re preparing the best we can and we’re going to take it one point at a time, one match at a time, and we’ll just approach it like any other NCAA tournament match, which is something that we’ve done a really good job of for many years: preparing for matches like this.

“I’m predicting there’s going to be a great crowd, so it’s going to be a great atmosphere, and we’re going to be able to put the two best teams in the ACC on center stage for the country to see.”

From the team that won the NCAA title last year, a strong nucleus returned. The Cavaliers’ veterans include von der Schulenburg, Ryan Goetz, Inaki Montes and Chris Rodesch.

“I think we definitely have to use it as a strength, because I remember my first year, I had no idea what was going on at NCAAs,” von der Schulenburg said on a recent Wahoo Central Podcast.

“Knowing what it’s like now and playing in those big stages, it helps a lot, because my first year I was a little rattled. And then second year was already much better, and now I feel much more mature. I know what I have to do and how to approach these matches and that part of the season, and the same goes with my teammates. There’s a few freshmen on the team, so we try to guide them and show them how it’s done, but obviously you always learn the best through experiencing it. So we definitely have a slight edge knowing that there are a bunch of our teammates who have experienced this already.”

Pedroso said his team “has great composure, just based on what we’ve been through for the last three, four years. We’ve been through pretty much everything. We’ve had highs, we’ve had lows, and the guys have taken it all in stride.

“When we won last year, I felt like they took it with a lot of humility and they arrived in the fall ready to work. And two years when we lost in the round of 16 in Orlando, I think they really used that as motivation and they came back that next fall as well ready to get back to work and improve. So we’ve had a lot of different types of experiences, and this is a really close group of guys, and they have a lot of internal conversations amongst themselves without the coaches, and they’ve figured out a lot of challenges and a lot of obstacles amongst themselves, which is a sign of a really close team and a team with leadership.”

The NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments move to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for their final three rounds.

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Andres Pedroso