NCAA Contenders: University of Virginia
In the buildup to the 2019 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, set to be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for the first time May 16-25, USTA.com will feature some of the nation's top teams in this "NCAA Contenders" series. Next up are the University of Virginia men.
When Andres Pedroso took over the position as head coach for the University of Virginia men’s team in mid-2017, he was taking over one of the most prestigious programs in the nation. Pedroso, who served as Virginia’s associate head coach from 2010-14, saw first-hand what the team could accomplish. With him on the staff, the Cavaliers won the program’s first Division I NCAA title, in 2013. The Cavaliers would later follow that up with three more national titles, from 2015-17.
In Pedroso’s first season as head coach, he had two players selected to play in the NCAA individual singles tournament and helped lead the Cavaliers to their 15th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The coach, who also oversees the UVA women’s team as the school’s director of tennis, considers his current team’s competitiveness one of its strongest attributes on the courts.
“Our ability to weather storms and stay the course in matches has been really impressive,” he said. “This has been a really fun group to watch grow as competitors, and it started on the practice court. The culture of competitiveness that this group has brought to our practices every day has really pushed each and every one of them to be more resilient and mentally strong during our matches.”
Pedroso recruited the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country, Gianni Ross, in his 2017 class. Ross, now a sophomore, hit a career-high world junior ranking of No. 13 in March of 2017, after competing in various top-tier tournaments that included the junior US Open and junior French Open, where he reached the boys’ singles quarterfinals.
After playing on the junior circuit for so many years, Ross has evolved from an individual player to a team player with ease. In his freshman season, he was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Atlantic Region Rookie of the Year. He credits Pedroso and his coaching style as a pivotal influence on his collegiate career, and for helping him become an effective team player.
“Getting coached by Andres, having him in my corner has really helped me a lot,” Ross said. “He’s more than just a tennis coach; he really showed me a lot off court and how to be a good person and understanding a lot about the mental side of life.
“I think the biggest thing is learning that in individual sports, you’re allowed to be selfish. When you go to a team sport, you have to understand you can’t be selfish, or else you’ll be taking away from the players. It teaches you not only to be accountable for yourself, but also for your teammates, which in return makes you more accountable for yourself.”
Redshirt senior Henrik Wiersholm (pictured above) also came to the Cavaliers with plenty of junior experience. He played in the US Open boys’ event three times, and also competed in the French Open and Wimbledon junior draws in 2014. In his four years at Virginia, he’s had many career-changing moments.
“Coming through for the team with clinches, I’ve had a few,” he said. But when it comes to his proudest moment, one stands out.
“I’d have to say clinching Oklahoma for the national title and coming back from 5-2 in my second set, winning that tiebreaker,” he said of his 2016 title-winning match, a 6-2, 7-6 decision at No. 6 singles over the Sooners. “It’s an individual accomplishment that’s tied to a team accomplishment; I was just so happy I could contribute to something bigger than myself.”
Wiersholm, who faced an injury that caused him to miss the entirety of last season, has learned to take a new level of appreciation from playing.
“I put a lot of importance on a last opportunity,” he said. “Being away from the game, I just realized how I enjoy competing and enjoy being out there with my teammates and brothers. Watching from the side made me realize I should take every moment this year and make it special—not make it special, because it is special—but really enjoy every moment.”
Along with having an impressive record, the Cavaliers boast a team bond that is unique from all others in the country. Pedroso says this is the closest team that he’s ever been a part of at Virginia and credits it to the team leaders: Wiersholm, Aswin Lizen and Carl Soderlund.
“All three of these players were members of a national championship team, and they experienced the benefits of creating an environment where teammates are constantly building each other up on and off the court,” Pedroso said.
“These players on this year’s team have done a phenomenal job of truly getting to know each other, understanding one another and building friendships that will last way longer than their four years at UVA. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
With four national titles under their belts over the last six years, the Cavaliers’ next mission is to give Pedroso his first championship title as a head coach. Their opportunity will come at the USTA National Campus in May.
For more on the NCAA Championships, including ticket information, visit the USTA National Campus website.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Virginia)