Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Urgency, intensity rises for UVA

ACC champion men prepared for tournament opener

- BY BENNETT CONLIN

UVA men’s tennis coach Andres Pedroso notices a difference at practice.

“There’s a little more of a sense of urgency,” he said. “Everybody wants to finish with no regrets and on a strong note, so you can see there’s a little bit more electricit­y at practice and guys are digging a little harder.”

Pedroso’s team has worked hard all season, but the intensity has grown in recent days. The Cavaliers begin their NCAA tournament run on Saturday afternoon, and they know a stellar season can come to an end at any moment if they don’t play their best.

UVA, the No. 5 seed, hosts Fairleigh Dickinson (6-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m. If the Cavaliers win, they’ll host the LSU-Stanford winner Sunday at noon.

It’s been a spectacula­r spring for the Cavaliers, and they’re hopeful it’s not close to finished. They went 21-2 overall and a perfect 12-0 in regular-season ACC matches. They won the ACC regular season and tournament titles, cementing themselves as one of the best teams in the nation.

In the NCAA tournament, however, the level of every program climbs up a notch.

“The regular season, everybody plays their matches and it’s fun and everything, but when it comes to the tournament­s you gotta win, otherwise you’re out,” graduate student Carl Söderlund said. “There’s no second chances, so we’ve gotta come out and treat every match like it could be our last.”

Fortunatel­y for UVA, a team that relies heavily on three freshmen, it received a stern test at the ACC tournament.

In the ACC quarterfin­als, the top-seeded Cavaliers nearly fell to No. 8 seed Georgia Tech. Freshman Jeffrey von der Schulenbur­g needed to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the third and final set of his singles match to give Virginia a 4-3 victory.

The semifinals were less of a challenge, with UVA defeating N.C. State 4-0, but the ACC championsh­ip match was a fight. UVA took down North Carolina 4-3 despite losing the doubles point. The Tar Heels are the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament and a worthy adversary, having beat UVA in a nonconfere­nce match at the beginning of the spring.

“It’s a culture of competitiv­eness and never giving up and fighting ‘till the end, and that’s something that’s been establishe­d for 20, 30 years here at Virginia,” Pedroso said.

ACC tournament play was good preparatio­n for what’s next, but Söderlund cautions that nothing is quite like the NCAA tournament. In ACC play, the team’s season wasn’t on the line. The next match is a win-or-go-home event.

“It’s definitely the closest we’ll get to it, but it’s always a little bit different in the NCAA tournament,” Söderlund said. “It’s the biggest tournament of the year.”

UVA does gain an edge by playing its first two matches on its home courts at the Boar’s Head Sports Club — assuming it advances out of the first round — before heading to Orlando for the final rounds of the event.

“We’ve been playing in this new facility now for a while, and I feel like we’re figuring out how the wind goes and the bounces,” Söderlund said. “It’s definitely going to play to our advantage.”

The Cavaliers are also excited to host the event at the same time as the women’s program, which began its tournament Friday afternoon. The two programs are close, with the coaching staffs sharing advice and drills with each other regularly. There’s an open communicat­ion between Pedroso and women’s head coach Sara O’Leary.

Virginia is one of eight schools nationally to earn top-16 seeds for both their men’s and women’s tennis programs.

“When Sara and I took the job here, we really wanted to make it a team effort and a team project,” Pedroso said. “That’s how we’ve approached it every day, and I feel like both programs are on the right track, and it’s a good sign we’re both hosting. This is where we want to be.”

The women won their opening matchup with Long Island 4-0 on Friday, facing little resistance while advancing to the second round.

The Cavaliers cruised through a pair of doubles matches, with scores of

6-1 and 6-0, to earn the doubles point.

No. 1 Emma Navarro, No. 3 Rosie Johanson and No. 4 Hibah Shaikh all won singles matches in straight sets.

The Cavaliers will host Tennessee at 4 p.m. Saturday in a second-round matchup in Charlottes­ville.

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