Sara O’Leary’s 2019-20 Virginia women’s tennis team was the smallest team she’s coached. Despite a roster totaling eight, the Cavaliers were a force before COVID-19 ended their season.
Led by star freshman Natasha Subhash and a trio of seniors, the Cavaliers took down then-No. 3 N.C. State and five other ranked teams during the season. UVa went 10-5 overall with every loss coming against a ranked opponent.
“It’s definitely a really tough moment,” O’Leary said of learning the season was over. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when the news broke, but what we did is we just had dinner that night and celebrated the season and celebrated each other, especially our seniors who that was their final match.”
The ending stung, but there were positives for the Cavaliers to build on entering the 2020-21 season.
Last season’s results
A 10-5 overall record doesn’t show quite how close the Cavaliers were to the top of college tennis. The Cavaliers lost 4-2 to both Georgia and Pepperdine, both of which were in the top 6 when UVa played them. Virginia also lost 4-3 to Georgia Tech and Florida State, both top 15 teams when the Cavaliers faced them.
The team’s only other loss was a 6-1 defeat to No. 1 North Carolina.
Virginia found itself in positions to beat programs like Florida State and Georgia Tech, only to fall a bit short. Aside from the North Carolina match, the Cavaliers had chances to win in nearly every match. Subhash, the team’s standout freshman and top singles player, won her singles match in the outing against UNC.
The Cavaliers weren’t perfect in 2019-20, but the results showed they would’ve been a tough out in the postseason.
The team’s three seniors, Hunter Bleser, Camille Favero and Chloe Gullickson, all depart the program. Bleser will head to graduate school at West Virginia, where she’ll play another season, while Favero and Gullickson both have other plans.
Losing three seniors is certainly a challenge facing the Cavaliers next season. The on-court challenge weighs on O’Leary’s mind a little bit, but she’s more focused on giving them the proper send-off they deserve that COVID-19 took away.
“We plan to find a weekend that works for all of our three seniors to come back to Charlottesville where we can celebrate them and recognize them and have a banquet like we were planning on doing this spring because we feel strongly that they absolutely deserve that,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary hopes to host the seniors for the banquet in the fall, if possible.
Subhash headlines a talented group of young players. Amber O’Dell and Sofia Munera were both sophomores in 2019-20, and juniors Vivian Glozman and Rosie Johanson add experience to the returning roster.
The ITA National Rookie of the Year, Subhash is an elite talent. O’Dell and Munera are both solid singles and doubles players with room to grow. Glozman and Johanson form a fearsome doubles team, and they’re both experienced and successful players. They went 12-2 as a doubles team.
O’Leary loses three seniors, but the team’s returning five players bring tremendous talent and experience.
The recruiting additions should excite Virginia sports fans.
UVa added the nation’s top recruit in Emma Navarro. Joining Navarro is a top-15 recruit in Hibah Shaikh. The Cavaliers also added Carson Branstine, a transfer from the University of Southern California.
At one point, Branstine was the No. 4 ranked junior player in the world.
The group of youngsters joins a squad that ended the season ranked 11th by the ITA. With those three additions joining an already talented team, the Cavaliers should find themselves in a great position entering next season.
Losing three seniors leaves a mark, but with Subhash and several other young talents leading the way, UVa women’s tennis can add its name to the list of Virginia athletics programs expected to contend for a national title next season.
“I think our team can be so great, and I think we can all get along well,” Subhash said. “I’m really excited to see what the season has in store for us.”