The upperclassmen on the Virginia men's tennis team are some of the top players in the country, and they've already experienced winning a national championship. As the Cavaliers make a run at a second-straight title, they're also relying on a talented group of freshmen who have been consistent early in their careers.
Four of the six players that were on the court for the 2013 NCAA title match are back this season. Rounding out the roster are three freshmen who will likely play in this weekend's matches, as UVa gets ready for a Round of 16 battle with Notre Dame.
"I came in without many expectations because this is such a tough team to play on and just being able to sneak in the lineup is an honor," says freshman J.C. Aragone, who is 19-3 overall this season.
"I just came in and wanted to do my best to help the team in any way I could, whether that was in practice or in the matches," adds freshman Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, who is 19-1 in singles matches this season. "I'm not focused on my own playing time, I'm focused on us getting four points before the other team."
Kwiatkowski has won 16 straight singles matches, while Aragone has won 11 in a row. The two first years combined to go a perfect 17-0 in conference matches, as UVa won another ACC title. Fellow freshman Luca Corintelli has a 9-3 record in singles matches and has been a strong doubles player for the Cavaliers. First year Jordan Daigle adds even more depth, posting a 19-5 singles record this season.
"They've exceeded my expectations," says tennis head coach Brian Boland. "With that being said, we have a lot of veteran leadership that played on the National Championship team last year, and I think that's kind of helped their transition and accelerated things for them."
Now, those veterans are helping the freshmen prepare for the biggest weekend of their lives so far. The Cavaliers will continue their quest for a second straight NCAA Championship, beginning in the Sweet 16 against the Irish on Friday.
"Obviously they all have great experience from the juniors, but when you go to NCAAs it's just a completely different atmosphere than anything that you'll kind of ever face, even in the juniors," said junior Mitchell Frank. "Obviously you're competing for a team, there's a lot of fans, a lot of people there."
"The ACCs for everyone wasn't that big of a deal because we've won it so many years in a row," said Aragone. "We haven't really gotten that feeling of winning something that's just as big as the NCAAs, so all the guys are just trying to get us ready for this amazing run."
"There's a lot of nerves," added Kwiatkowski. "I've played a lot of tennis, but nothing that's similar to playing at NCAAs and playing for something other than yourself. There's definitely a lot of new things and I've definitely got to stay open minded and ready for any challenges that can come."