To reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, the Virginia men’s tennis team will have to go through two of the most storied programs in collegiate tennis history.
The Cavaliers took down Stanford in the second round, beating a program with 17 national team titles to its name. On Monday at 4 p.m., No. 5 UVa plays No. 12 USC in Orlando, aiming to defeat a team with an NCAA-record 21 men’s team titles. The Trojans won their first national championship in 1946 and their latest in 2014.
“It’s a storied program with a lot of history and been a very successful program, they’ve had a great season,” Virginia head coach Andres Pedroso said. “They’re a strong team. There’s a reason why they’re here. We have a lot of respect for them. We’re preparing the best we can for a great battle.”
While the Trojans boast plenty of team history, the Cavaliers have been one of the best programs in the past decade. UVa has won four team national championships, and all four have come since 2013.
Pedroso gives significant credit to former head coach Brian Boland, who helped build the program into a national power from 2001-17. Pedroso aimed to build off the culture set by Boland when he took over as the head coach.
“It’s been a total team effort,” Pedroso said. “There’s no way we can be where we’re at today without the effort of the players, the former players, their families, the alumni, athletics director Carla Williams, executive director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation Dirk Katstra, the Bolands and everyone that’s a part of it today.”
Virginia wants to add national title No. 5 this season, building on an impressive tradition. It has the pieces to win four more matches. Graduate student Carl Soderlund is the seventh-ranked singles player nationally, according to national rankings released on May 5 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Freshman Jeffrey von der Schulenberg is 44th nationally, and fellow freshman Iñaki Montes checks in at No. 61. The singles roster is deep, which helps when the Cavaliers happen to drop the doubles point.
“We feel like our doubles point is as good as anybody,” Pedroso said. “We’re looking to win that doubles point. If we win it, we feel like we’re extremely tough to beat, and if we lose it, we still think we can get four points against anyone in the country if we compete hard.”
Pedroso also credits the team’s tight bond for much of its success this season. He’s enjoyed how his team supports every individual on the squad, focusing on picking up wins as a unit however possible. Players want individual success, but the talented group has bought into the idea of succeeding as a unit first.
USC and Virginia are among the most prestigious men’s tennis programs in the country, and Monday’s match pins two heavyweights in the sport.
This season, UVa has a slight edge on paper, but USC has the tools to remain competitive. The Trojans have won six matches in a row, and they seem to be peaking at the right time of the season.