April 29, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- At the Cary Tennis Park in North Carolina, the UVa men's team overwhelmed North Carolina 4-0 in a match that ended Sunday at about 1:35 p.m.
Two hours later, at the same complex, the UVa women joined the men as conference champions. At No. 3 singles, sophomore Stephanie Nauta rallied for a three-set win over Duke's Hanna Mar to clinch the Cavaliers' 4-2 victory -- and their first ACC tournament title.
"It was amazing, the best feeling ever," said Nauta, who fought off two match points in the 12th game of the third set and then won the tiebreaker 7-3. "Those are the moments you live for."
For the Virginia men, who entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, the ACC title was their eighth in a row and 10th in 11 seasons, and their post-match celebration wasn't as frenzied as the women's would be later that afternoon.
The defending NCAA champion Cavaliers won each of their three matches in Cary by a 4-0 score and extended their winning streak over ACC opponents to 121 matches. Even so, UVa coach Brian Boland wants to make sure his players don't take the program's dominance for granted.
"I told them after the match to stop and appreciate the moment and that they should be so proud and humbled that they're part of this level of consistent success," Boland said Tuesday.
"There's a number of first-years on our team that have really contributed to our success this year, and it really takes a team effort. It's so enjoyable for me as a coach to see these teams have the level of success year after year, but each time you see new faces smiling and having an opportunity to win a championship, it's really special."
In improving to 23-2, the Wahoos ousted Florida State in the quarterfinals and ACC newcomer Notre Dame in the semifinals before disposing of UNC in a match that lasted only 2 hours and 35 minutes.
For much of the season, Boland noted, the ACC has had seven teams ranked in the top 25 and three in the top 10.
"We have so much respect for the ACC, and we're just humbled and honored to have won another championship," said Boland, who's in his 13th season at the University. "It's a tremendous accomplishment, and I think it's only going to help us gain confidence as we move into the NCAA tournament."
In the ITA singles rankings released April 22, UNC's Brayden Schnur was No. 12 and UVa's Alex Domijan was No. 14. They met Sunday in Cary, and it wasn't close. Domijan whipped Schnur 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 to improve his singles record to 24-1.
A senior who's one of the Cavaliers' captains, Domijan also won at No. 2 doubles Sunday, teaming with sophomore Harrison Richmond for an 8-5 victory.
"He's playing the best tennis that I've seen in his four years here," Boland said. "He just continues to get better and better, and he just continues to be great leader for us, on and off the court, and I just couldn't be more blessed to have him playing as hard as he is and doing such a great job in his final year."
On the women's side, UVa (21-5) shared the ACC regular-season title with North Carolina, Miami and Clemson. Virginia, which entered the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed, whipped sixth-seeded Georgia Tech 4-1 in the quarterfinals, then crushed No. 2 seed Miami in a 4-0 semifinal win.
Six days earlier, in the regular-season finale for both teams, the Hurricanes had defeated the Cavaliers 5-2 in Coral Gables, Fla.
"To come back and pretty much dominate on all of the courts was great for us," Nauta said.
In the final, which would last nearly five hours, UVa won the doubles point and then went up 2-0 when sophomore Danielle Collins won in straight sets at No. 2 singles. After the fifth-seeded Blue Devils pulled to 2-2 with victories at Nos. 6 and 4, sophomore Maci Epstein won at No. 5 to put the `Hoos up 3-2.
That left two Cavaliers on the courts: Nauta at No. 3 and classmate Julie Elbaba at No. 1.
"There was an empty court between me and Julia," Nauta said Monday night, and the other UVa players "were right in between cheering us both on."
Head coach Mark Guilbeau and associate head coach Troy Porco? "They were running back and forth between our courts," Elbaba said Monday night, "and Stephanie and I were constantly asking them what the score was on the other's court. We both wanted to get the job done, but we also wanted to make sure that one of us would get the job done."
This marked the third meeting between Nauta and Mar in ACC play. In March 2013, at No. 1 singles, Mar clinched a 4-3 victory for the Blue Devils by rallying to defeat Nauta in three sets. That match, too, was decided by a tiebreaker after Mar rallied in the third set.
They met again in February, this time indoors at the Boar's Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, and Nauta avenged her loss to Mar, winning 7-5, 6-4 to help UVa upset then-No. 1 Duke 5-2.
Their match Sunday lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours, and "was a lot like the first one, because it had such an up-and-down [quality] to it," Nauta said.
She led 5-3 in the third set, only to see Mar take three straight games. Nauta then survived two match points, "and the next thing you know I'm in a tiebreaker, similar to my first year, up in the tiebreaker," she said. "This time I didn't let anything faze me."
Elbaba and Duke's Beatrice Capra were tied 4-4 in the third set when Nauta's match-winner secured the ACC title for the Cavaliers.
"It was a great feeling, and we all wanted it so badly," Elbaba said. "We're just so happy."
The championship belongs not only to his current players, Guilbeau said, but to those who preceded them at UVa, where he's in his ninth season.
"I think it's just an example of how everyone plays a part," Guilbeau said. "You work hard, and good things happen. You don't automatically get the rewards like this right away.
"I get a sense that the kids on the team right now, they understand that. Not that they didn't realize this before, but I think it really validates that, hey, you work hard, and it's worth it. Great things happen. That's why you have to sometimes handle some adversity, and be strong and work through it."
His former players have "really reached back to us, and there's been a lot of support," Guilbeau said. "It's been great. I know that they're just really happy for the program, and we're making sure as a staff, and as a team, that they know they're a huge part of it, because they really are.
"We've always said that every kid that came in here and did the right things and worked hard, they're a part of this."
Boland and his wife, Becky, stayed at the Cary Tennis Center through the end of the women's final Sunday.
"I'm just thrilled for them," Boland said. "They deserve it, and I'm so happy for them, and I know I speak on behalf of all the players on the men's team. We're thrilled to see the women's team's success and looking forward to Virginia tennis thriving in the postseason."
For the kings and queens of ACC tennis, final exams begin this week. The NCAA tournament will follow for each team. UVa is expected to host first- and second-round matches at the Snyder Tennis Center in both tourneys: May 9 and 10 for the women and May 10 and 11 for the men's.
Until then, Boland said, he and his coaches will put their players' "academics first and work around their schedules so they're able to study and do a great job in the classroom."
Guilbeau said his players will be off this weekend, "which will be super-nice. We haven't had a weekend off since January."
Nauta said: "This has been a really long season, so I think it's nice to kind of have a break and rest a little, but we're not stopping here. I think we're all very hungry for the next level."
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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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