For the University of Virginia, Tuesday was a day for the record books as the Men's Tennis team finally nabbed the elusive NCAA Championship trophy after being so close for so many seasons.
The victory gave the Wahoos their first ever NCAA title in the sport, along with the privilege of being the first ever Atlantic Coast Conference school to bring home the hardware.
For me, no team or coach was more deserving of a National Championship than Virginia's Men's Tennis and Brian Boland. Year after year, the Cavaliers crushed competition throughout the season, only to fall just short in the NCAA Tournament. This year's win didn't come easily, seeming at times eerily reminiscent of Virginia's last two trips to the finals in 2012 and 2011 where they fell to USC in consecutive heart breaking losses.
I'll fully admit: I missed the first half of action, but was able to catch up on my way home from work via Twitter updates (don't worry, Mom, I only looked while stopped at stoplights).
When I got fully settled, I'm not sure I could have even come close to imagining the match I was about to witness. Virginia led 3-2 in team points at that time, with the no. 6 singles (UCLA's Karue Sell v. UVA's Julen Uriguen) and no. 3 singles (UCLA's Adrian Puget v. UVA's Mitchell Frank) heading into their respective third sets that would determine 2013's champion.
Uriguen would quickly fall, allowing UCLA to even up the score at three apiece, and putting the pressure of victory squarely on the shoulders of the six foot, 155 pound, second year from Annandale. Frank and Puget swapped games early on, finding themselves knotted at 3-3 in the decisive match.
Frank made several mental errors in the next two games, putting multiple consecutive shots into the net and giving his opponent a 5-3 lead with the serve.
Mitchell, who missed the entire fall season to an injury, was no stranger to performing in high stress situations. Last season, Frank was named both the ITA National Freshman of the Year and ACC Freshman of the Year, while also playing his way to the quarterfinals in the NCAA Singles Tournament.
Despite my die-hard fandom, I found my confidence wavering as Puget got ready for the serve with the 5-3 lead and the National Championship on the line. Let me just re-iterate this. Puget led five games to three, and led 40-30 in the game, serving the National Championship match point. The stakes could not have been higher.
In a flurry of action, Puget appeared to have floated the winning shot over the net, crushing the Cavalier's dreams once again. However, in his aggressive attack, Puget's foot stepped on the net, giving Frank the point and breathing life into the Wahoo's cause once more.
Mitchell Frank stormed back to take the game, and somehow took the next to tie the match at five games apiece. Frank played like a veteran, pacing his shots, placing the ball, and mixing in few aces to liven the action. This was incredible in and of itself, but even more so when considering Frank was dominated in the opening match, falling 6-0 to his UCLA rival.
Now with momentum on his side and hitting his stride, Frank got the break to go ahead 6-5 and had the chance to serve to win for the Wahoos. The match had come full circle.
Mitchell took the first point. 15-0. Chants of U-V-A filled the air from the Cavalier faithful who had made their way to the University of Illinois in the hopes of seeing history made. Teammates cheered from the sidelines.
Mitchell took the second point. My Twitter feed filled with tweets that simply read, "30-0".
Mitchell took the third. 40-0. Championship point. Could this really happen? More chants from the Wahoo crowd.
Puget snuck one in. 40-15. Ok, double championship point. We're still good.
Puget gets another. 40-30. Come on, third time's a charm, right?
After what seemed like 76 volleys, Puget smacks a forehand shot that sails wide of the line. Mitchell falls to his knees as his racquet drops on the ground beside him, hands reaching to his face in disbelief. In the blink of an eye, Mitchell Frank is engulfed in a sea of orange. His teammates dogpile him as Coach Boland hugs his wife, Becky.
The scene was absolute perfection to cap off the epic battle the Cavaliers had found themselves in with the talented squad from UCLA. The win finalized Virginia's immaculate 30-0 record on the season and gave players like Jarmere Jenkins and Julen Uriguren the taste of victory that had so long eluded them.
Virginia Men's Tennis immediately received an outpouring of support via social media, with Governor Bob McDonnell, Mike London, Tiki Barber, Chris Long, former UVA Tennis NCAA Singles champ Somdev Devvarman, Dean Groves, former Wahoo and Mariners prospect Steven Proscia, and the Virginia Men's Lacrosse team, among others, showing some love.
While the victory was truly a team effort, I will never forget the ice-in-the-veins performance by second year Mitchell Frank as he rattled off four straight games after being down to the championship point with all the marbles on the line. For me, he epitomized staying cool under pressure, even when that pressure is the hopes and dreams of your coach, your teammates, and an entire fan base.
Congratulations to Coach Boland and the Men's Tennis family. Way to bring home the University of Virginia's TWENTIETH National Championship in style.
Mitchell Frank, Wahoo nation salutes you. You are our Clutch Cavalier.