It's the road trip that members of the Virginia men's tennis team have been waiting a year to make.
"Every time that last point is hit in the NCAA final, we have to wait a whole another year. So it feels good to be back," senior Jarmere Jenkins said Monday, before the Cavaliers boarded their bus for the University of Illinois, and this year's NCAA Championships.
"It feels good to have everyone healthy," Jenkins said. "I don't know, I'm just really hoping we can get it done this year."
By "getting it done," Jenkins was referring to the program's first-ever national team title. Virginia has only missed the NCAA semifinals once since 2007, with the last two seasons ending with losses to USC in the championship match.
Virginia's march toward another title match appearance begins Thursday, when the Cavaliers face California in the Round of 16. They advanced with back-to-back 4-0 wins over Fairleigh Dickinson and Minnesota this past weekend in Charlottesville to win the program's 10th straight NCAA regional.
"It's exciting," head coach Brian Boland said Monday. "We've put our work in, we've done our work. The guys are in a good place physically, mentally, and emotionally. They came off a great weekend, so they have a lot of confidence. They seem to be in good spirits; they're physically healthy."
"I think we've all been looking forward to this moment for the whole year," said senior Julen Uriguen. "And I think this team is better prepared than ever. So I think we're just excited, and focusing on our Round of 16 match."
The Cavaliers enter the Round of 16 with a 26-0 record on the season. Last month the program reached the 100-straight-win milestone in ACC play, and two weeks ago it claimed a seventh straight conference title.
All that remains is that first-ever national championship. But Boland knows the road from this point isn't an easy one.
"It's tough. It's really tough," he conceded. "And the toughest team will survive. And that's something we've talked a lot about. So we'll see what the guys have inside of them."
"I think when the NCAA Tournament comes, it's never really about the tennis," said Jenkins. "We've already put in the work. We've hit hundreds and thousands of balls. So it's just about having the will, and going out and fighting."
"I believe they are the toughest team. They're the most prepared team; they're the fittest team," Boland said. "Now we just need to go out there and show it to ourselves and the rest of the world every day that we have the opportunity to do so."
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