The celebrations told the story.
Mac Styslinger of Virginia barely pumped a fist after clinching No. 2 Virginia's 4-0 victory over unseeded Cal, while Hunter Reese of No. 7 seed Tennessee did a deep knee bend and let out a roar after earning the Volunteers' fourth point against No. 10 Mississippi State.
Virginia is into the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive year, and after winning the doubles point and five of the six first sets against the Bears, it was a question of who, not if.
Tennessee also captured the doubles point, but the teams split the first sets in singles, so the Volunteers 4-2 victory was far from assured.
Jarryd Chaplin made it 2-0 Tennessee with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Jordan Angus at line 4 before Mississippi State got on the board with a 6-2, 6-2 win from Pedro Dumont over Ed Jones at line 6. Tennessee got their cushion back when Brandon Fickey took a 6-3, 6-2 decision from James Chaudry at 3. Mississippi State responded with Zach White's 6-4, 6-3 win over John Collins at 5 to make it 3-2, meaning the match would come down to courts 1 and 2.
By then, the ITA's top-ranked player, Mikelis Libietis of Tennessee, had split sets with No. 6 Romain Bogaerts at 1, while Reese was down a set point with Malte Stropp at 6-3, 4-5 30-40. A good first serve got Reese out of that tight spot and he held for 5-5, then broke Stropp to take a 6-5 lead. Stropp continued to play aggressively in the final game but a lucky net cord winner for Reese gave him a 30-0 lead and he closed it out from there.
Reese was ready for a tough match from Stropp.
"It's like the fourth time I've played him and he's tough," said the sophomore from Georgia. "We battle every time. We've had some weird ones. I've saved match points and won, he saved like ten match points before I won, and we've had some ridiculous matches. I was up a break in both sets and he came back in both sets. It's so back and forth. He can turn it on, he's a great player, he can move you all over the court and you gotta stay tough the whole match."
Tennessee survived a 4-3 match against Clemson in the regional final in Knoxville, a win that head coach Sam Winterbotham agreed may have helped his team.
"It helps you lose years off your life," joked Winterbotham. "Honestly, that was one of the funnest college tennis matches I've been a part of in a long time. They competed so well, both teams. But it helps. They feel like they've earned it (a place in the round of 16) and they are ready to keep advancing."
No. 7 Tennessee 4, No. 10 Mississippi State 2
Noon CT – North Courts
1. #1 Mikelis Libietis (TENN) vs. #6 Romain Bogaerts (MSU) 3-6, 6-1, 3-1*
2. #34 Hunter Reese (TENN) def. #57 Malte Stropp (MSU) 6-3, 7-5
3. Brandon Fickey (TENN) def. James Chaudry (MSU) 6-3, 6-2
4. Jarryd Chaplin (TENN) def. Jordan Angus (MSU) 6-3, 6-3
5. Zach White (MSU) def. John Collins (TENN) 6-4, 6-3
6. Pedro Dumont (MSU) def. Edward Jones (TENN) 6-2, 6-2
1. #1 Libietis/Reese (TENN) def. #13 Stropp/Angus (MSU) 8-6
2. Wilkinson/Dumont (MSU) def. Fickey/Chaplin (TENN) 9-8(4)
3. #34 Jones/Collins (TENN) def. Bogaerts/White (MSU) 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,6,3,5,2)
* = unfinished
Virginia got their singles wins from Julien Uriguen at No. 6, over Riki McLachlan, Alex Domijan over Christoffer Konigsfeldt at No. 2 and Styslinger at line 4 over Gregory Bayane.
Cavalier head coach Brian Boland made a change in his lineup prior to the match, removing Ryan Shane at 4, allowing Stylslinger and Justin Shane to move up a slot, and Uriguen to move into the No. 6 spot.
"We'll look at each match," said Boland of the lineup moves. "We feel we have some good options and we'll see where we're at. It's a good problem to have."
After two straight appearances in the finals, Boland has heard the question countless times, but is this Virginia's year?
"We're just going to play every match as hard as we can," said Boland. "I felt like we prepared well for the tournament, like we have every year. I'm really proud of our consistency. Our guys come to play every day. We've fallen short in some close matches over the years at the end, but we've been there, and given ourselves a chance every year. The consistency that we've been able to provide year in and year out and coming ready to play I think is a testament to a lot of hard work from our current and former players. We're really proud of that."
No. 2 Virginia 4, California 0
Noon CT – South Courts
1. #3 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) vs. #38 Ben McLachlan (CAL) 6-3, 4-6, 0-0*
2. #2 Alex Domijan (UVA) def. #86 Christoffer Konigsfeldt (CAL) 6-2, 6-4
3. #39 Mitchell Frank (UVA) vs. #60 Campbell Johnson (CAL) 6-2, 3-0*
4. Mac Styslinger (UVA) def. Gregory Bayane (CAL) 6-4, 6-1
5. Mads Engsted (CAL) vs. Justin Shane (UVA) 7-6(4), 3-1*
6. Julien Uriguen (UVA) def. Riki McLachlan (CAL) 6-0, 6-1
1. #4 Jenkins/Styslinger (UVA) def. #26 Johnson/Konigsfeldt (CAL) 8-4
2. #21 Domijan/Frank (UVA) def. Engsted/McLachlan (CAL) 8-5
3. Bayane/Melton (CAL) def. #89 Shane/Uriguen (UVA) 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (6,2,4)