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May 11, 2013Nothing rattled the UK men's tennis team as it rolled to its fourth straight Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
No. 8 UK beat No. 41 Virginia Tech 4-1 at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex thanks to strong showings from a trio of veterans in singles play. They'll advance to play Duke next weekend in Champaign, Ill.
Kentucky won the doubles point 8-3 and 8-1, then jumped out to early leads in three of the singles matches to pressure the Hokies. But things weren't so certain in the early goings.
The Wildcats kept their composure after a slow start in doubles play before putting the Hokies away convincingly. The momentum from the doubles point carried over into singles play. UK is now 15-2 in matches when winning the doubles point.
"Against a good team, it's always tough to find four singles points (out of six)," head coach Cedric Kauffman said. "Those are tough odds. There were a few more smiles in the locker room after the doubles point, but Michigan did it yesterday (against Virginia Tech) and lost, so we stressed that coming out."
Kentucky's upperclassmen made sure they wouldn't suffer the same fate as the Wolverines. Senior Anthony Rossi, UK's top player and the No. 5 singles player in the country, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set. Junior Tom Jomby, UK's No. 2 player, took a 4-1 lead. Junior Grant Roberts also pushed early, taking a 4-0 lead.
The other three singles matches were far closer, but it didn't matter. Rossi, Jomby and Roberts closed the door on the Hokies convincingly.
"We have to show (younger players) the example every day," Rossi said. "We have to show them that even if we won the doubles match, it's not over."
Virginia Tech's Aaron Gomez beat UK's Beck Pennington 7-5, 6-1 in the No. 6 matchup, but that was the only point the Hokies would register. Kauffman said after the match that Pennington had sustained a slight injury, but was hopeful he would be able to play next weekend.
Rossi will be playing in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in his career, while Kauffman will be leading Kentucky there for the first time. Both had been major parts of the Wildcats' previous tournament runs, but Rossi only ascended to the No. 1 singles role this year. Kauffman was named head coach after last season after serving as an assistant coach for the program since 2005.
"We're one of the elites, for sure," Roberts said. "We're only getting better. We've had some great years, but Cedric is going to keep building and getting this program better and better towards top five, Final Fours, finals, and hopefully winning championships."
UK freshman Kevin Lai was trailing 6-2, 5-4 when the match was called. Sophomore Charles Minc was trailing 6-3, 4-3.
After sweeping Western Michigan 4-0 on Friday, the Wildcats seem to have found their momentum after falling in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. They've found themselves in a familiar place after two rounds, but they're hoping to move past that this year.
"It's great, but I'm not satisfied," Rossi said. "I want more. I want to go to at least the Final Four and see what we can do there."