Road to Orlando: Defending champs Virginia seek NCAA men's title repeat in 2023
In the buildup to the 2023 NCAA Championships, set to be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando from May 11-27, USTA.com will feature some of the nation's top teams from Divisions I, II and III in this 'Road to Orlando' series. First up are the defending DI men's champions, the University of Virginia.
The University of Virginia men added to their program's proud history last season by winning the Cavalier's fifth NCAA Division I team title. UVA has won all five of those crowns within the past 10 years, claiming its first in 2013 before a three-peat from 2015-17.
While defending a title is nothing new for the school, it is a novel experience for this current group. Head coach Andres Pedroso (pictured at bottom right of team photo) returned five of six singles starters from the team's 4-0 sweep of Kentucky in last year's NCAA final, and he encouraged his players to make a fresh start at the beginning of this season.
"Everyone drinking Coke and eating popcorn and ice cream in the stands wants to talk about the target on your back as defending champions," said Pedroso, who was named the 2022 ITA National Coach of the Year last season after winning his first national title as a head coach. "It's an illusion. I really don't think there is a target on our back.
"There's a lot of great teams out there. The competition is too tough to to be entitled in any way and think that you've got an edge over anybody else. So I was just delivering a message of humility to the guys and encouraging them to start over and and have a sense of urgency in their training and and approach it like every other year within UVA men's tennis.
"We don't need to talk about the goal being winning a national championship too much. That's without even saying it."
The Cavaliers already have one trophy this year, having won the ACC regular season title with a win against Georgia Tech on April 16. After finishing the season with a 21-4 record (12-0 ACC), Pedroso credited his returning players for leading by example, adding that he views his team's experience as a major strength.
"We've got a lot of kids that played in that moment, in a final four, in an ACC final. And they've played in the biggest moments of college tennis and and they've won, they've found ways to win," he told USTA.com. "So that's going to give them a little bit of a comfort level that maybe other players might not have."
One key returner is graduate student and captain Ryan Goetz, who is in his fifth season with the Cavaliers. A native of Greenlawn, N.Y., Goetz registered a win at No. 2 doubles in the 2022 NCAA title round and was on the verge of a victory at No. 4 singles before the match was clinched.
This season, the aggressive baseliner picked up his 100th collegiate singles win in a 6-1 team victory against Boston College on March 24.
"The 100th win was a little surreal, to be honest, when it happened or really after the fact," he reflected. "I don't really think about the individual statistics that much... I think the main focus is is getting the win for the team at the end of the day. When it happened, it was great, but it's on to the next."
Two matches later, Goetz earned win No. 102 against Wake Forest as UVA scored a statement 4-0 result on the road. The victory was part of a stretch of three straight Top 25 wins and stood out to the American as one of the key results of the spring.
"Having things go our way in that match really set the tone for us for the rest of the season," said Goetz, who is completing a one-year M.S. program in commerce and plans to enter the workforce after this season. "We're looking to build on it."
Despite the recent success, it was not all smooth sailing for the Cavaliers this season. Their title defense got off to a slow start with four February losses, including a quarterfinal defeat to Michigan at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
Coach Pedroso put the blame squarely on his shoulders. After some self-reflection, he made adjustments to his practice plans and the team's approach to strength and conditioning—changes that have reaped big rewards, as Virginia ended the regular season on a 13-match winning streak.
"I've always believed that college tennis teams and collegiate athletic programs are a reflection of the head coach," he explained. "I took a big look in the mirror after Indoors and and as a result so did everybody else in the program, and I really think we got a lot better after Indoors and we'll be ready in May."
With the Cavaliers now firmly on track in their bid to retain the NCAA team title, they enter the postseason at No. 8 in the ITA Rankings. Last year, they won the national trophy as the No. 7 seeds.
Drawing on last year's experience, Pedroso laid out a simple strategy for postseason success.
"You've just got to stick to your identity out there and make small little adjustments. But the overall strategy doesn't change," he said. "We're always going to try and highlight our strengths out there and play with clarity and and fight as a team and and represent the Orange and Blue."
Goetz echoed his coaches sentiments and as he prepared to lead his team into the ACC playoffs: "The postseason starts this weekend, so it's a new season," he said. "We're fully focused on that right now."