The Virginia men’s tennis team begins NCAA Tournament play Friday as it tries to capture the National Championship for the third straight year and the fourth time in five years. It will mark coach Brian Boland’s final NCAA Tournament as he moves on to US Tennis at the end of the season.
In some ways, a team on an elite level like UVA waits all year to get to the big stage in the NCAA Tournament in May. So yes, the Cavaliers are excited to get started.
”I’m really excited and I think I can speak on behalf of all the guys that I think they’re all excited as well,” UVA senior Luca Corinteli said. ”Our goal in the beginning of the season is to peak in May so the time has come now, we’ve put in all the work, and now it’s time for us to go out there and enjoy the moment.”
While the ultimate goal is to lift the team trophy at the end of the tournament, the Cavaliers are not focused on the final stop in Athens, Georgia, yet. The first step is to take care of Monmouth, the Hoos’ opening round opponent. That match will be played indoors at the Boar’s Head Sports Club due to weather. The match is set to begin at approximately 1 p.m. Admission and parking are free.
The Hawks enter the NCAA Tournament with a 13-11 record overall, but they posted a perfect 7-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference record to win that league. That included five sweeps. MAAC Player of the Year Nicola Pipoli holds down the No. 1 spot.
UVA added Monmouth to its regular season schedule during the season. The Cavaliers swept the Hawks by a pair of 4-0 scores following nearly a month layoff after the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. Virginia also eliminated Monmouth in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Still, the Hoos enter this matchup with their focus on the Hawks and not on the big picture.
”They’re a good team,” Corinteli said. ”They’re tough. They obviously won their conference so they deserve to be here and our focus is completely on them and making sure we’re executing in doubles and on all the courts in singles and hopefully we give ourselves the best chance and compete as hard as we can against Monmouth.”
”Both teams have seen each other and they’re actually pretty good,” Boland said. ”All those first rounds that push us only help us as we move through the tournament. I’ve always been concerned when we’ve had a first round over the years that wasn’t quite as strong as I was hoping. Monmouth has some players so we’ve got to focus on the first match and we’ll do that.”
The Cavaliers enter the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak of 11 straight wins. That included a run to the ACC Championship, the program’s 12th, in Georgia two weeks ago. In the ACC Tournament title match, UVA took down Wake Forest in a tight 4-3 contest that came down to the third set of the final match. Senior J.C. Aragone clinched the crown for the Hoos with a 7-6 (8), 4-6, 6-3 win against Christian Seraphim.
The outcome was a reversal of a 4-3 final score in the 2016 conference tournament final where the Demon Deacons pulled out a win in the third set of the final match. Wake enters this year’s NCAA Tournament with the No. 1 overall seed, while Virginia is No. 2.
The Hoos think they can build on the conference tournament test even though it finished at the end of April.
”I think you can build on it for sure because you get some of that pressure and that adversity that you face in the finals of a tournament,” Corinteli said. ”We’ve been lucky enough to play in the finals of the National Indoor this season and the finals of the ACC Tournament. That only can help. … You can try your hardest in practice and you can try to trick your mind into having those pressure moments, but there’s nothing like being in the arena and competing like that.”
”There’s always going to be tight matches,” Aragone said. ”I remember last year, it was the same thing. We lost to them, but it was like 7-6 in the third, last match on, so we easily could have won that one. But we really don’t think too much into that. Sure it’s nice to get the confidence moving into a tournament, but that was just one tournament and now we’ve got to move on to the next. We kind of put that aside and focus on our goals and doing everything we can to prepare best for NCAAs.”
Boland echoed his players’ thoughts on the experience of playing a high pressure match with a title on the line.
”I’ve said it for years – there’s nothing more important than having the experience,” Boland said. ”It’s absolutely invaluable. Even over the years of coaching, you grow in every profession. When you approach these tournaments, every opportunity you get to go through another journey, you learn and grow and reflect each and every year. So the longer you’re at it, the more you’re willing to try to adapt and adjust and get better at preparing a team for the tournament.”