Cavalier Corner

April 2012

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A BY MIKE SCANDURA NY RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN the University of Virginia's women's tennis team pre- 2005 and the team since then is pure coincidence. And the rackets and tennis balls don't count. What does count is the impact head coach Mark Guilbeau has had on the program. For example, the Cavaliers were a school- record No. 6 in the nation in the Feb. 28 Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings after dispatching No. 25 Alabama in the an- nual Blue/Gray Tennis Classic. There's more to the story, of course, but mere mention of the Cavaliers' success just alluded to would have been considered vir- tually impossible prior to Guilbeau's move from nationally ranked Kentucky to Virginia in the summer of 2005. The Cavaliers had won a mere six matches in 2004 and were coming off their worst season in 15 years. In Guilbeau's first season at the helm, UVa finished 14-10, reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and fin- ished with a No. 23 national ranking. "His heart and soul are into this team," fourth-year Lindsey Hardenbergh said. "He's constantly available to us. On an indi- vidual level, he's aware of what's going on. "I've learned how to lead the team and not hide from it. [Guilbeau] calls it 'being real.' I'm seeing a change in my maturity level, which is something I'll take with me beyond my four years." In the six-plus years that Guilbeau has been at UVa, the Cavaliers have reached the NCAA's second round five times and fin- ished the season ranked among the nation's top 25 teams three times; won a school- record 20 matches, advanced to the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 for the first time ever and finished with a No. 11 national ranking in 2011; and were ranked in the ITA's preseason top 10 (No. 9) for the first time in 2012. Also last season, he was voted the ITA Atlantic Region Coach of the Year. *** Now, check this. In the nine years Guilbeau was at Ken- tucky, the Wildcats qualified for the NCAA Tournament nine times and reached the quarterfinals in 2005 — the year he was voted both the SEC and ITA National Coach of the Year. That raises the obvious question of why Guilbeau left Kentucky for Virginia after seemingly putting himself in a position where he could have had a job for life. "When you're at a place for nine years, it's a long time," Guilbeau said. "It can be a good life experience to live somewhere else 12 ◆ CAVALIER CORNER and, obviously, Virginia speaks for itself in terms of academics. "All the coaches knew UVa had a pro- gram that should have been doing better than it was. Recruiting is a part of it. I im- mediately became a better recruiter once I put on a Virginia jersey. "But we're all driven by challenges. I'm not afraid of that. I thought, with my expe- rience at Kentucky, I could fit in well here and that's what happened." One challenge facing a coach taking over a new team that's been mired in losing is to change the players' mentality. In Guilbeau's I've improved on since I've been here. "I have a pretty heavy ball with a lot of top spin. Mark's helped me in terms of us- ing it to move players laterally as well as back and forth. I want people to move when I'm playing them." Not surprisingly, there's been more to Guilbeau's success than X's and O's. "One of the most overriding principles I ON THE MARK opinion, that wasn't a major obstacle he had to overcome at UVa. "To be honest, the mindset here was that these kids were very confident," he said. "They didn't look at themselves as having underachieved. "The biggest disconnect was the behavior on and off the court regarding what you should expect from Division I student-ath- letes. It took a long time in terms of learning how to behave well and lay off the nightlife for a change. "There were many girls before I came here and some who I inherited who gave us a chance to do some great things. There were a couple of fantastic young ladies who were willing to put in the work to make it happen." One young lady whom Guilbeau recruited and who's helped Virginia "do some great things" is fourth-year Emily Fraser. "I can honestly say I've had very influen- tial people in my life, but I think Mark's one of the best I've had," Fraser said. "There are a number of things I've learned about tennis and life that I can apply to the rest of my life. I think I've grown so much under him. "He's very much the type of person who focuses on details. For example, I was never aware of the emotional side of things. Tech- nically, I developed my forehand and my serve. And movement is the biggest thing live by is you earn what you get," he said. "Some of us are blessed with immense tal- ent. The bottom line is, when you get to the college level, you've worked hard to be a good player. Head Coach Mark Guilbeau Has Made UVa Women's Tennis Relevant Again "We try to instill in our players that you work hard, practice with the right mindset, treat people with courtesy and it all comes back to you. There are basic fundamental tennis things you should be doing every day. "I believe as a coach, you only can work as hard as student-athletes will allow you. You try to hold onto your principles and philosophy and try to encourage them to allow you to work with them and push the level. When you help them with this and that, it shows that you're teaching them. It becomes a synergistic relationship. Ten- nis can be an individual sport, but you teach them that the power of team is so important." Seemingly just as important is a coach's ability to know what buttons to push. To use a baseball metaphor, a catcher must know his pitchers well enough so that he learns which ones need a pat on the back or which ones need a kick in the posterior. "That's changed over the last eight to 10 years," Guilbeau said. "You really have to navigate a little more carefully in terms of how you push the buttons because kids have a lot more going on in their lives. Guilbeau led UVa to a school-record 20 victories, the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 and a final national ranking of No. 11 in 2011. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA

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