RICHMOND, Va. – This time of year, college students are usually focusing on finishing up final exams and hitting the beach or heading home for the summer. Things are a little different for the Virginia Commonwealth University tennis programs.
Yeah, the final exams are still in the picture, but there is no beach or home cooking around, just the NCAA Tournament, something that has become a near standard with both the men's and women's teams under Head Coach Paul Kostin.
"We expect to be in the NCAA Tournament every year," Kostin said. "The tradition we have established here at VCU is something that is cherished by all the players that have played here. There's no point in playing if you don't want to compete against the best in the country every year."
On Thursday, the men's squad will be making their 18th NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 21 seasons when they take the court against the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest at 10 a.m.
Although VCU is always expected to be a threat on the men's side, this year was a little different with questions with the youth and inexperience of the Black & Gold, especially with the graduation of CAA Player of the Year Thibaut Charron.
That's before senior Tim Johannsen (29-7) burst onto the scene to guide the Rams to the regular-season conference championship, a 22-6 record and an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm really proud of the way our guys battled all year long," Kostin said. "I knew we had talent, but I also knew that we were really young and fairly inexperienced, but all year long we had different guys step up and we were led at the top by Tim and Max [Wennakoski], which really helped set the tone for the rest of our lineup."
Wake Forest is not a stranger for VCU as the two teams battled back Feb. 15 in Winston-Salem, N.C. with the Demon Deacons picking up a 6-1 win. However, after that match, the Rams finished the season by scorching their competition in 15 of their final 18 contests.
A victory for the Rams would set-up a date with either, the top national seed, UVA, or Sacred Heart in a 4 p.m. showdown on Friday afternoon.
The action for the women's team won't start until Friday morning at 10 a.m., when they will battle ACC foe, N.C. State in what is expected to be a highly competitive showdown.
"They're a really good team that was able to beat us at their place earlier this year," Associate Head Coach Yana Carollo said. "We didn't play our best tennis in that match, but I feel like we've put in the work in practice to be prepared for the opportunity that lies ahead for us. Hopefully we'll come focused and determined against a quality opponent."
After holding a top-25 ranking much of last year, the Black & Gold knew that they had the chance to put together a special season this spring with four returners back from that squad. It sure started that way with 14 wins in the first 15 matches, including quality wins over DePaul and South Florida.
However, VCU stumbled down the stretch going 6-4 in the months of March and April, but still knew that an at-large berth was nearly concrete as they held down the 31st spot in the ITA rankings heading into the NCAA Tournament selection.
"This is a new season for us, a chance to get back to what made us good all year," Carollo said. "Practice has been important over the past couple weeks and I can't wait to see what we can do this weekend."
Like the men, the women's squad will be getting a chance for revenge as the Wolfpack defeated the Rams, 5-2, in Raleigh back on March 12. It will be the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 12 seasons for VCU.
All the action starts on Thursday morning, so check back here at VCUathletics.com to follow live stats from the NCAA Tournament action.