Despite down year, expectations remain high for 'Hoos

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Andres Pedroso likes what he has seen at Virginia men's tennis practice.

"Practice is very competitive. Guys are going after each other, which is the type of practice you want," the Cavaliers' head coach said this week. "You want everything to be a competition, and guys pushing each other, and just having that mindset that the harder they go, the better they're making their teammates. So practice has been a lot of fun this year."

Pedroso's second dual match season as UVA head coach begins Thursday night at Boar's Head Sports Club against William & Mary. The Wahoos enter the year ranked No. 17 nationally in the first ITA top 25 of 2019.

Pedroso's first year ended with a loss to Columbia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It marked the first time since 2014 that UVA didn't win the NCAA team championship, and ended the program's run of 14 straight years reaching at least the tournament's round of 16.

"It was just a learning process for all of us on the team. We were super young. I think we took them well," said UVA senior Aswin Lizen. "All that's done is help us grow and help us mature."

"I think a lot of those losses are going to help us this year," Pedroso said. "We're battle-tested this year and we've cut our teeth, so we're ready to come at some people this year."

It also helps to have Henrik Wiersholm back, after he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Wiersholm has a career record of 70-13 at UVA, and has played on three NCAA title teams with the Wahoos.

"That's kind of a reality and an expectation that I have for what it means to be Virginia tennis, is that level of excellence," Wiersholm said. "I truly believe that we're heading that direction."

Junior Carl Soderlund and sophomore Gianni Ross return as well, and UVA also added a loaded class of first-year players. Brandon Nakashima, the No. 5 junior player in the world, skipped his final semester of high school to enroll early at UVA and play this spring. Ryan Goetz was ranked as high as the No. 5 recruit in the country, while William Woodall was ranked the No. 17 recruit.

The Wahoos believe being deep and healthy can be a recipe for big things this spring.

"If you talk about the talent that's on this team, I mean this team can play with anyone," Wiersholm said. "And it's just going to be a matter of actually going out and doing it."

"I've told the guys this many times. I think physically, we're as good or better than any team in the country," said Pedroso. "And I think when you sign up to play at UVA, you're signing up to play in the biggest moments in college tennis. And that's where our eyes need to be, and we need to embrace it.

"Pressure is a privilege, and we need to get after it. That's the fun part."

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