The No. 11 Virginia women's tennis team travels to the ACC Tournament this week in Cary, N.C. The Cavaliers are the No. 4 seed, their highest seed since 1994, and will meet either Florida State or Wake Forest in the quarterfinals on Friday at noon. Virginiasports.com talked with head coach Mark Guilbeau to review the regular season and preview the tournament.
Question: Your team has already tied the school record with 18 wins and set a new school record with seven ACC wins this season. How would you sum up the regular season performance of this team?
Guilbeau: The one word to describe this regular season, especially compared to previous years, is exciting. That is a great word. There were moments within the season when it wasn't always the case, but for most of the season it was exciting in so many ways. To be fortunate enough to host the ITA National Team Indoor Championship and play so well there was a great experience. Part of what that did, and it was building up to that point, was create excitement within our fan base. Our crowds have been growing and we, as a team, have benefitted from that. We had some matches where we lost that excitement, and maybe there were some nerves associated with that, but we were able to get things going again over the past couple weeks.
Question: Last week you got a pair of road wins at Clemson and Georgia Tech that are traditionally very tough places to pick up victories. What did those performances tell you about where the team is heading into the postseason?
Guilbeau: It says a lot. The way I presented it to the team was that there were some questions out there that matches like this will bring to you. You will see the answers to those questions based on how you perform. The team certainly answered those questions positively and they showed that they wanted those wins and that they wanted this season to end the way that it should. They wanted to put themselves back up in a higher position, both in the ACC and nationally. Even better, they handled the moment, the pressure of those situations very well. It was clearly our best effort of the season on Sunday [at Georgia Tech] and that followed a great finish on Saturday [at Clemson] where all six players were at a very high level. I don't think they are bothered by playing on the road and I couldn't be more impressed with how they have handled those situations.
Question: You are the No. 4 seed for the ACC Tournament and have a first-round bye for the first time. Does that change your preparation heading into the tournament?
Guilbeau: It does a little bit. You take advantage of every minute you have to practice. One of our goals is to have these practices not focus on quantity, but quality. I want to have great quality in practice on Wednesday here and then tomorrow, in Cary, match in our practice what Florida State and Wake Forest are doing in a real match. One advantage we have is, as we see how that match progresses, we can start to prepare for individual matchups with the team we will play the next day.
Question: Many players on the team seem to be playing some of their best tennis of the year at this point in the season. Are you encouraged that they seem to have stepped up their level in recent weeks?
Guilbeau: Definitely. Lindsey [Hardenbergh], to me, is playing the best tennis of her career. She has been very consistent and that level looks to maintain itself. I like how she is doing it. She is making it less complex. She is keeping her unforced errors down and is making her opponent have to be incredibly good to beat her. Hana [Tomljanovic] has stepped up huge for us. She has been good in some big moments in the past, but this past week she really stepped up with a competitive fight and the use of some skills that we needed. Erin [Vierra] has picked it up, but I still think we can take it to another level with her and she is working hard to get to the top of her game. At No. 5 and 6, Caryssa [Peretz] and Maria [Fuccillo] have been battling very hard. Caryssa has been a bright spot as she has moved up the lineup and continued to perform well. Emily [Fraser] really helped to trigger a great start to this season with her high level of play. While this is never easy to maintain, I know she can draw on that level and her competitive spirit to finish this season in a strong way. This team is very complete when she is leading the way. In a general sense, everyone has picked up their level and that is what we will need to continue to do to be successful in the postseason.
Question: How does this year's tournament shape up for you compared to previous years when you had to play in the first round on Thursday and then had to play quite often a top-five team nationally in the quarterfinals?
Guilbeau: Obviously we are looking at playing a very good team on Friday. Chances are it will be Florida State, who is coming off wins over Duke and North Carolina, so they are playing at a very high level. You can throw the brackets in the garbage can. You just have to take it one match at a time. It is a process that puts us in a great position if we can win on Friday, not only advancing in the ACC Tournament, but will help us in terms of seeding in the NCAA Tournament. I think our team has done a great job all year of focusing on the next match and realizing that if they do that, the long-range things will take care of themselves.