Feb. 16, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In college tennis, it's all about May. That's when the NCAA team, singles and doubles tournaments are held and the most coveted trophies are awarded.
The school year, however, includes other marquee events. One of them starts Friday at the Boar's Head Sports Club, where the University of Virginia men's tennis team will host the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's National Team Indoors Championship.
At 6:30 p.m., on the Boyd Tinsley Courts, top-seeded UVA (5-0) meets No. 16 seed Utah State (7-3). The quarterfinals are Saturday, the semifinals Sunday and the final Monday.
The most recent of the Cavaliers' five titles in this tournament came in 2013, when they went on to win the first of their three NCAA team titles. That's left a hole in the résumés of the program's current players.
"It's eluded us, and hopefully we can get it this year at home," Thai-Son Kwiatkowski said. "It's always really nice to have that home-court advantage."
Virginia already has played at the Board's Head this week, defeating Illinois 6-1 in a non-conference dual match Tuesday night. After the Wahoos won the doubles point, Kwiatkowski needed only about an hour to dispatch Aron Hiltzik 6-3, 6-0 at No. 2 singles.
Such results are not uncommon for Kwiatkowski, a 6-1, 170-pound senior from Charlotte, N.C. He's had a stellar career in head coach Brian Boland's program.
Among other achievements, Kwiatkowski made the All-ACC third team as a freshman and the All-ACC second team as a sophomore and again as a junior. In 2016, after helping the `Hoos capture their second straight NCAA title, he was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA team championships. He reached the semifinals of the NCAA singles tournament as a sophomore and the quarterfinals last year, and at the end of 2016 he had ATP rankings of 675 in singles and 534 in doubles.
Along the way, he's distinguished himself academically, too, as might be expected of a young man whose parents each hold multiple degrees from UVA. Kwiatkowski, who's studying information technology in the prestigious McIntire School of Commerce, was honored in 2016 as the ACC's scholar-athlete of the year in men's tennis. He also was recognized as the University's ACC scholar-athlete of the year.
"Thai's the example of the complete student-athlete," Boland said. "He's in one of the most competitive business programs in the country, and he's carrying an incredibly high GPA, as well as playing at the top of the lineup for the best tennis program in the country.
"So that's an incredible challenge that he's totally embraced. What I'm most proud of is the kind of leader he's become. Not only just for his peers, but for himself. He's really embraced the process and the culture and what we stand for. His maturity over his career is something I'm so proud of and humbled by."
To be honored for his academic prowess "means a lot to me," Kwiatkowski said, "because the ball's going to stop bouncing eventually for me, and I hope I can create some value somewhere else other than the tennis court."
His tennis schedule occasionally pulls him away from Grounds during the week, but that hasn't stopped him from excelling in the Comm School.
"All my professors are really understanding, and they're really supportive," Kwiatkowski said. "When you're on the road, you just make some time and get the work done."
And when his academic obligations force him to miss practice, Kwiatkowski said, "Coach is always understanding."
His mother, Wendi Le, has a bachelor's from the Commerce School and a master's in management information systems. His father, Tim Kwiatkowski, a fixture at his son's matches, has a bachelor's in psychology and a medical degree from UVA.
Eventually, Kwiatkowski said, "I'd love to work for a tech start-up. I'm really into innovation and digital processes and things like that. So maybe one day I'll get into that data analytics field. We'll see how it goes."
Kwiatkowski spent his high school years in the USTA Player Development program in Boca Raton, Fla., where he took online classes. The transition to the classroom setting at UVA was challenging at times, Kwiatkowski said, but the team's academic coordinator, Adam Brooks, and others helped him through the process.
"When you have so much support, it's not unmanageable," Kwiatkowski said.
His roommate in Boca Raton, Luca Corinteli, has been his roommate and teammate throughout their years in Charlottesville, too.
"It's been really cool to see us grow together," Corinteli said. "I've been lucky enough to have him as sort of a brother, just because we [both] left home kind of at an early age."
Kwiatkowski was anything but even-keeled on the court early in his college career, and his outbursts sometimes hurt his play.
"He had a quick temper," Boland recalled. "He was a pretty emotional guy when he came, as many [players] are, but Thai has been so committed to this program and what it stands for, and he cares so deeply about his teammates and his coaches. It's been one of the greatest experiences I've ever had as a coach, to see this young man grow, and it makes me very emotional, and it has over the last couple months, just thinking about this being his last season and how much I've seen him improve.
"The thing that makes me most proud about Thai is it shows the process works. It makes me believe in what we're doing and how we're doing it. So I'm really proud of him."
Corinteli said Kwiatkowski is "always going to be an emotional guy, and we love him for it because he has so much passion for the game. But he's been able to manage those emotions and really mature. And it's helped the team out so much."
He hasn't lost his emotional edge, Kwiatkowski said, but "I've maybe evolved a little bit. Hopefully I got a little wiser. I'm trying to be a leader as a fourth-year and do my best to enjoy these next three months as much as possible."
In last year's ITA National Team Indoors, UVA lost 4-2 to North Carolina in the final at the Boar's Head Sports Club. That ended the Cavaliers' run of 140 consecutive dual-match victories against ACC foes, the longest winning streak in conference history, in any sport.
The NCAAs remain the Cavaliers' top priority, Kwiatkowski said, but "we're going to come out ready this weekend and we're going to try to do our best to protect the house."
The season started early this month for Virginia, which was tested immediately on the road by Vanderbilt and Kentucky. UVA won each of those matches 4-3. Another SEC power, Florida, came to Charlottesville to face UVA at the Boar's Head last weekend. The 'Hoos defeated the Gators 5-2.
"I think it's been really great to have challenging matches early," Kwiatkowski said, "because May is going to be challenging. So when you have those difficulties now, you're going to be more ready in May ... Every time you get on the court is a growing opportunity, is what Coach tells us, and come May we're going to be ready for sure."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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