When Brian Boland became head coach of the Virginia men’s program in 2002, the team wasn’t ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Top 75. Since that time, Boland has built a dynasty. Virginia has been ranked in the top five of the ITA’s final rankings in seven of the past nine seasons. His teams have strung together a 139-match winning streak in the ACC, the longest streak in conference history in any sport.
This year, Boland led the Cavaliers to the 2015 Division I Men’s Tennis Championship, its second national title in three years. Two years ago, a dominant UVA men’s tennis team capped an undefeated season with its first championship in school history.
Coming into the 2015 season, Boland had to work to convince a band of players in a sport based on individual performances of the value of winning—and losing—as a unit. “It takes a village to be the best at what you do,” Boland says. “In any sport, or life, you need help.”
A key turning point in the season came last fall when the team spent a weekend at Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They hiked, sledded and got to know one another better. “We had to give a talk to the (players) about how we were going to buy into the team culture. It really brought us together,” says Mitchell Frank (Col ’15), the team’s captain.
Returning to the NCAA championship this spring, Ryan Shane (Col ’16) recalled feeling that the team was closer than ever. “We knew we could win it if we just played for each other,” Shane says. “We felt a bond playing next to someone we really cared about.”
Unlike the undefeated run to the championship two years ago, the Cavaliers lost three matches during the season—twice to Baylor and once to Oklahoma. Their opponents in this year’s NCAA semifinals and finals: No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 1 seed Oklahoma. To add to the degree of difficulty, the tournament’s final rounds were held on Baylor’s home courts in Waco, Texas.
But Boland says he saw his players fight toward a common goal. “Forming a team around you and being loyal to that process is so important to success,” Boland says. “This group of young men really believed that, and they managed to deal with the adversity. In most cases, it allowed them to come together even more.”
Shane and Frank agreed that the ties they’d forged during the year were key to their victory this spring. “It made it a little more special, winning it as a team; the feeling of victory was truly shared,” Frank says. “You’re able to really embrace with your other teammates, which is not something you often get to have in tennis.”
Six days after Virginia won the team title, Shane continued the Cavaliers’ success, winning the NCAA Men’s Singles Championship as a No. 8 seed. Shane rallied to win after being down a set and a break against Noah Rubin of Wake Forest. He is the second Cavalier to win a singles title, joining Somdev Devvarman (Col ’08), who won in 2007 and 2008.
Frank piled up accolades this year, winning the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player and later the ITA/Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award, given to a Division I men’s player who displays sportsmanship, character, excellent academics and outstanding tennis accomplishments.
Frank’s straight-set singles victory clinched UVA’s 4-1 national championship victory this year. Two years ago, he also clinched the title under considerably more pressure. In the 2013 deciding match against UCLA, Frank fought off match point while trailing 5-3 in the third and final set, ultimately rallying to win the match and championship.
“I said it last time we won a national championship, that if there was one player I’d love to have on the court at the end clinching the match, it is Mitchell Frank,” Boland said after the match. “He is a warrior and he loves the game. He puts his heart and soul into it every day, and to his credit he really put the team above himself this year and was extremely unselfish in his approach.”