Jan. 15, 1998

Virginia Men's Tennis: Rebuilding a Tradition

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Thomas Johnston came to Virginia in 1991, as an assistant coach and in 1994, he became the head coach. His objective was simple - rebuild the program. Before Johnston arrived at the helm, the men's team was ranked 95th in the NCAA and eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The building process has been a challenge but has proved to be a very successful one. The team is currently ranked (preseason) 29th in the nation. " I came here and felt that the number one goal should be to develop a solid program that would be among the top two schools in the conference and consistently be in the top 10 in the nation every year. We strive for very high goals here at Virginia both academically and athletically," said Johnston.

The men's program has improved since Johnston took over three years ago. The failure of the program was attributed to the lack of top facilities and solid players. The facilities have undergone a tremendous face lift since Johnston first arrived. "When I arrived, we didn't even play on our own courts. We had to play at local courts in the area. I wanted the best facility."

The best facility was exactly what Coach Johnston received. With the help of Rick Smith, Friends of Tennis, and a donation from Sheridan Snyder, the $1.4 million, 13-court facility was constructed. The team now calls the Sheridan Snyder (formally Lady Astor) Tennis Facility home.

The new facilities have helped improve Virginia Tennis recruiting efforts. Coach Johnston wanted to gain more high-quality players and believed that with better facilities, better players would be more willing to come to the program. The modern facilities do not completely dictate whether a player will join the team but the better facilities do help in the decision process. Now with improved facilities, the recruiting efforts have become a little easier for Johnston. "I really worked hard on recruiting and it has gotten better each year." This year's team will have 'four newcomers as a result of recruiting efforts.

The team boasts two of the top players in the country-- Huntly Montgomery and Brian Vahaly. Montgomery, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is one of the top ten players in the country that came out this fall. Vahaly hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and is one of the top three players in the country. Both Montgomery and Vahaly will be in the Cavalier top four positions at the start of the season. With the new addition, Virginia Men's Tennis will have a solid base for years to come.

As for the team this season, Coach Johnston says, "We have a solid team and will be a top contender for the ACC title this year. We definitely have the talent to enter the NCAA Tournament and our ultimate goal is to enter the 'Sweet Sixteen' and continue from there to win the NCAA Tournament." These goals are realistic for the team even with the loss of powerhouse, Scott Lebovitz to graduation.

Lebovitz is the only Virginia player to ever win more than twenty single matches in each of the four years in the program. "Losing Scott is a big loss for the program. He and I grew up with the program and losing him is tremendous. He grew into a great captain and just became an overall better tennis player. By his final year, Lebovitz was playing in the number one singles and doubles positions.

Even with Lebovitz's absence, there are still high expectations and hopes for the tennis program. The team has a very promising mix of talent and experience to lead them into this upcoming season.

Returning player, Bear Schofiled is expected to play at the number one spot this year. Schofield is remarkable and is a solid player with lots of experience under his racket. Following Schofield are third years Hyon Yoo and Kent Koch. Both are expected to occupy seeds in the top seven positions. Adding depth to the team is fourth year Justin Smith who will most likely see action in one of the top positions as well. All of the returning players are expected to produce great results for the team this season.

Not only will the top seeded singles be strong but the doubles will be the team's strongest attribute. "We're going to be outstanding this season in doubles." says Johnston. With the top players coupled together the Virginia team will most likely be unbeatable in this area. Schofield and Yoo will be matched up at the number one spot with the number two team filled by some combination of Montgomery, Vahaly, Smith and Koch.

In addition to the strong doubles, the team is "very cohesive and mentally tough," says Johnst:on. "These two qualities will add more to the team's performance this season." Johnston also believes that conditioning, technique, sports psychology and strategy will also improve the team's play and foster a healthier (both physically and mentally) team. "We are spending a lot of time on those four areas of tennis and I believe it will be rewarding to the team," reported Johnston.

With the high expectations that guide Virginia Men's Tennis, they should yield top team results this season.

Look for the spring schedule and support the Virginia Men's Tennis team!