The following is a part in the continuing collaboration between LWOS Tennis and Ryan Shane, chronicling the defending NCAA champion as he plays his last season of collegiate tennis and transitions to the pro tour.
In a downtown Louisville, Ky hotel conference room, the University of Virginia tennis team picks over the remains of a pre-game buffet: steamed broccoli, and pasta with marinara sauce. With his teammates discussing the flight into town last night, Ryan Shane walks into the pre-match meeting smiling and loose. At 6’4, Shane cuts a strong figure when he enters, and despite his height and size that many of the high school players watching his match later at the Bass Rudd tennis complex would comment about, he still carries himself with the ease and almost goofiness of a young man just removed from his teens.
Around him his teammates sit, discuss the Kendrick Lamar album that dropped unexpectedly overnight, waiting for Coach Brian Boland and Assistant Coach Dustin Taylor to start their prematch strategy meeting. Coach Taylor leads a discussion of no ad scoring and its impact on the college game and their strategy in the upcoming match against Louisville and in the future beyond this match. The coaches open the forum to player responses, and the teammates listen carefully to the points each other makes. At then end of the meeting Coach Boland makes a clear point to the team, “whatever you do guys, whatever your style, you need to own it and do what you do best in the big moments. Know what you do best and know what you are going to do in those big moments. Own your game.”
Shane seemed to take those words to heart. After missing the previous match against Illinois the weekend before, Shane returned to his number 1 spot and easily dispatched Alex Gornet of Louisville, firing big forehands from corner to corner, and blasting huge serves that made the high school players in attendance “ooh” and “ahh”. Shane seemed every bit the player ready to transition to the pro tour, showing aggression, defense, and big serving.
Shane won the match easily, no signs of any confidence loss from a couple of losses at the beginning of the season. Earlier in the day, sitting in that conference room, reflecting over his collegiate year so far, Shane showed no signs of worry about his game or his season. When asked about the nagging hip injury that had caused him to miss the big showdown with perennial NCAA contender Illinois, Shane was positive and direct, ” Yeah, I’ve dealt with my FAI, and I had a procedure that helped to heal it. The doctors said I should take a couple weeks off to heal it and that was right on the cusp of the college season starting, so I played and could feel some stuff going on. Coach (Boland) obviously wants me to be healthy for my future ,so coach sat me.”
As defending NCAA Singles Champion, there is a great deal more attention on Shane when he plays than their previously was. Beyond the journalists that cover collegiate tennis online, this attention extends to the rabid and devoted niche fans of college and American tennis that run rampant on Twitter and Instagram. During the ITA Indoor Championships (the sort of winter championships for Indoor Collegiate Tennis) Shane suffered two unexpected losses to Brayden Schnur of North Carolina and Cameron Norrie of TCU. Although his healing hip could be an easy out to excuse the tight losses he suffered at the beginning of the season, Shane does not make any excuses with it.” I’m on a good path coming back as NCAA champion, I knew I was going to have a target on my back, but I didn’t realize how big it was going to be. I got a taste of that pretty quickly…the losses may have hurt a little bit, but they opened my eyes, and just help me focus on working even harder.”
Although those losses made ripples in the collegiate tennis fandom on social media, Shane himself was only surprised by the fact that so many people thought the losses were upsets or a big deal. “In the past when I lost or someone beat me you know it wasn’t really that big of a deal, I was just another opponent, but now you know every time I’ve lost I feel like there’s an interview about how someone beat an NCAA Champion.” Shane explained further that, ” you know I’ll get a text or a tweet from a fan or friend saying “you’ll get em next time” and a link to a video of the interview– it’s new for me; I’m not used to the attention, but it just drives me to not have to ever look at vids like that again.”
As Shane looks forward to the beginning of outdoor season, he’s more concerned with team and enjoying this last go around with this group of guys. When asked earlier to talk about “his season” his first instinct was to discuss the team– a casual misunderstanding that reflects the unselfish, team first mindset of Shane. Talking about his team brings about more animation from the 21 year old Virginian. His eyes widen, hands move, voice resonates a little more. It is easy to see the impact of UVA tennis on Shane. ” We just beat Wake Forest (another ACC rival) at ITA Indoors, and being on the side of the court watching Henrik (Wiersholm) clinch, there’s just really no other feeling like that. It wasn’t a final, or semifinal, but coming down to one match, third set, no-ad scoring. It’s his first year playing that spot for us. It’s an all around amazing feeling when those moments happen with the team–you feel great that he clinched it–you feel great that you were there cheering him on–the team, the fans, you can’t predict how important we and they are in those matches.” Shane’s eyes widen at the realization as he clarifies even further, ” You feel good for him, that he got to experience that feeling cliching the match for his team–it just feels good on so many levels.”
Shane hopes to experience more of those emotions with the team as they progress their way to potentially more ACC and NCAA hardware. After a win over a Louisville team that “impressed” Coach Boland with their fight and intensity, the bulk of the ACC season lies ahead for Shane and the UVA team. With a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma (home of the 2016 NCAA Championships) over spring break, and rivalry matches with perennial tennis powers, North Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest looming, the potential for a rush of those “good feelings” exists in abundance.
Earlier in the year Shane discussed what he learned from playing the Citi Open and US Open last year, he discussed learning that he “couldn’t just hit opponents off the court” and “how important it was to just play within myself.” Those same sentiments echoed by his coach during their pregame meeting, about “owning your game” and “doing what you do” are just a few of the things Shane has learned during his career at UVA, and those lessons continue to be crucial and important to him as he closes out his career with big team and personal goals in mind.
Since this interview Shane and his teammates have gone 4-0 with wins over ranked opponents Tulsa and Oklahoma. Shane himself has gone 3-1, losing a tight match against Axel Alvarez Llamas of Oklahoma.