By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The finish line approaches for four players whose impact on the University of Virginia men’s tennis program has been enormous.
As first-years in 2021, Chris Rodesch, Iñaki Montes, Alexander Kiefer and Jeffrey von der Schulenburg helped the Cavaliers advance to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. In 2022, they were key members of a team that captured the program’s fifth NCAA title, and last year they led the UVA to a second straight national championship.
“I’m going to miss these guys,” Virginia head coach Andres Pedroso said. “I’m going to enjoy this last semester with them.”
The final spring season for this illustrious senior class starts Saturday, indoors at the Boar’s Head Resort, where Virginia will host Liberty at noon and JMU at 5 p.m. If all goes as planned for the Wahoos, they’ll still be playing in mid-May when the NCAA tournament’s final three rounds are held in Stillwater, Okla.
“It’s off to the races again,” Pedroso said.
To head into a season with such an experienced core is unusual, and “I think it’s a big advantage,” Pedroso said, “just because these guys can provide the younger guys with so many stories and so many experiences and a lot of stability and confidence that is needed throughout the ups and downs of a college season in any sport.”
Moreover, he said, “these are great guys, really nice guys who were brought up the right way. They’re good students and they love UVA. They represent us really well. We haven’t spoiled them. They’re as humble as you’re going to get when it comes to student-athletes being accomplished in their sport.”
Kiefer, Montes, Rodesch and von der Schulenburg are not the only returning players from a team that won its final 22 matches and finished 30-4 last year. Also back are sophomores Måns Dahlberg, Ty Switzer and Douglas Yaffa.
A native of Sweden, Dahlberg enrolled at UVA in January 2023 and had little time to adjust to life in the United States before the spring season began.
“It was a tough semester for him, and he handled it really well,” Pedroso said. “He took it in stride. He got knocked down many times, but the guy kept getting up, and every time he got up he was a little stronger, a little smarter and a little more knowledgeable about what he needed to do to be successful. He just got better as the season went on.”
Playing No. 6 singles, Dahlberg did not lose a match in the NCAA tournament, and now, in his second year at the University, he no longer finds himself in unfamiliar territory.
“This fall really gave him an opportunity to just get his feet under him and get comfortable with university life and with classes and with practices,” Pedroso said, “and I think it’ll serve him well for the spring.”
The Cavaliers practiced and competed individually in tournaments during the fall, but not in dual matches. The focus in the fall, Pedroso said, is “No. 1, building relationships with the new guys. No. 2, I think, is just kind of understanding how this team connects and how they work together and how they understand each other. And then No. 3, it’s picking one or two things with each guy that they can improve on either physically, mentally, emotionally and just chipping away at that all fall, so that by the time January comes around, each guy is better and we have a better idea of how we’re going to approach the team when it comes to the team season.
“The fall is about gathering facts, making adjustments for each guy and implementing them and seeing what works, so that we have an idea of how we should manage them during the team season.”
New to the roster this season are graduate transfers James Hopper (Case Western Reserve) and Edoardo Graziani (Penn), junior RJ Fresen (who was on the team in 2019-20 and 2020-21), and freshmen Dylan Dietrich, Jack Griffin and Stefan Regalia.
Hopper won two NCAA Division III doubles titles at Case Western Reserve and helped the Spartans win the team championship last year. Graziani played No. 1 singles and doubles for Penn.
“James helping his team win a national championship at the Division III level, it’s an experience that that we’re going to draw from,” Pedroso said, “because winning a national championship in any division in any sport is extremely difficult. And it’s a special experience to have under your belt as a competitor, as a teammate, as a leader.”
Graziani was honored as the Ivy League’s top player in 2022. “He’s played big-time singles, big-time doubles at the Division I level,” Pedroso said, “and so he’s got a tremendous amount of experience that he can add to the team.”
Dietrich, who like von der Schulenburg is from Switzerland, was one of the world’s top-ranked juniors before enrolling at UVA last summer, “so that’s going to be invaluable,” Pedroso said.
“He’s played in junior grand slams, and he went deep at the Junior French in 2022, which shows that he’s comfortable on the big stage. He’s going to have to get his feet wet, college tennis-wise, because it is a different sport, but he’s going to add a lot of value to our team this year.”
Scott Brown, Pedroso’s top assistant at UVA for the past six seasons, is now the head coach at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. Assisting Pedroso this year are Brian Rasmussen and Treat Huey.
Rasmussen was Virginia’s volunteer assistant for three seasons before taking a coaching position in 2021 at the Boar’s Head Sports Club. In 2022, with Huey traveling on the pro circuit, Rasmussen rejoined the Cavaliers before the NCAA tournament. He was named a full-time assistant last June after Brown left for Vandy.
“Even last year when he was working at the Boar’s Head, Brian just always kept a pulse on us,” Pedroso said, “and he worked as the volunteer assistant for the women’s program. So he was around the guys and he was still interacting with them and paying close attention.
“I think I’ve said this before, but over the last five years, Brian has played a major role behind the scenes and on the front lines in getting Virginia men’s tennis back competing for national championships. He’s always personified our culture, and frankly, he’s been our turnaround specialist. If a player is going through a tough time, there is nobody better than Brian to get them back on track. It’s been so great for the guys, for me personally and for the program overall to have him back fully invested in the team. Brian has a really bright future as a college coach, and we’ve been very lucky to have him at UVA.”
Huey, a former All-American at Virginia, recently retired as a professional player. He joined Pedroso’s staff as volunteer assistant in March 2022 and worked with the Hoos through the ACC tournament that year. Huey returned to UVA as volunteer assistant last February and was promoted to full-time assistant coach last summer.
“Treat’s all in,” Pedroso said. “He’s so excited. He loves this place so much. It’s his alma mater. It’s a place that he takes a lot of pride in, and he’s a big part of our culture, our history and our program’s accomplishments. So it’s been amazing to have someone of his experience, character and tennis pedigree on the coaching staff. Treat is a very gifted coach in a lot of ways that you can’t teach. The impact he’s made on our team, especially player development-wise, over the last two years has been tremendous.”
In 2022 and again last year, the Hoos struggled at times early in the season before hitting their stride. That wasn’t by design, Pedroso said.
“It’s not like we’re pacing ourselves in January and February in order to peak in May,” Pedroso said. “That is the furthest thing from the truth. We’re trying to win every match. It’s just that we haven’t played as well indoors and we haven’t really had set doubles teams that have really connected at that time of the season. And I think that’s normal, because doubles really isn’t our focus in the fall. We have a lot of guys on the team that are focused on playing at the next level, primarily in singles, so we use the fall to really focus on developing their singles games. And I’ve always believed that great singles players are always going to eventually become great doubles players.
“I think we need to try to improve as a team indoors, and hopefully our doubles teams click a little sooner. But if they don’t, we’ll take it in stride like we have the last two years. I think something this team has really done a good job of is, when we have lost or when we’ve faced tough times, they’ve had really honest conversations with themselves and with the coaches and they’ve taken really deep looks in the mirror and made adjustments and been open to constructive criticism. And so I think the losses have really made us a lot better, and they’ve made us tougher down the road of the season.”
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