Söderlund’s Finish Beats Stanford, Propels UVA To Round Of 8

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Carl Söderlund celebrates after clinching the match against Stanford Saturday (Photo courtesy UVA Media Relations).

All eyes were on Carl Söderlund in the dramatic remaining minutes of Virginia’s NCAA Round of 16 match with Stanford on Saturday afternoon. Everything was riding on the big Swede to come through in the clutch.

A trip to Orlando, this year’s site of the NCAA men’s tennis championships was at stake, and the immense pressure to get UVA there fell squarely on Söderlund’s ample shoulders.

The nation’s No. 3 ranked singles player delivered big time, coming back to win a third set (6-0, 5-7, 6-1), clinching a 4-2 victory over Stanford at Boar’s Head Sports Club. Rain forced a change in venue after UVA had taken a 1-0 lead by winning the doubles point at Snyder Tennis Center’s outdoor courts.

Fifth-ranked Virginia (24-4) will advance to the finals site, the USTA National Campus in Orlando, with the other seven super regional winners, and will meet a very familiar opponent — No. 4 Wake Forest — in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Match time will be announced later.

Söderlund was so overcome with emotion in his win that he rushed toward the net and whipped off his shirt, fists raised in the air in perfect Brandi Chastain fashion.

“I’m sorry about that,” Söderlund smiled apologetically after the victory. “I probably wouldn’t have done it again if I knew I was going to do it. It was just instincts coming out. It was tough losing the second set, and so just a good feeling coming back and winning.”

Nobody was complaining. Söderlund had earned the right to celebrate a huge triumph over Stanford’s Alex Geller, ranked No. 13 in the country.

“That was just pure maturity, professionalism, discipline, emotional intelligence,” UVA coach Andres Pedroso said of Söderlund’s win. “I can’t say enough about how much of a mental win that was for him to be up 6-0, 5-0, and to lose the lead and to still find a way to come back in the third. No one would have known that he lost the second set by the way his body language was in the third. Just an incredible win by Carl.”

Söderlund was dominating Geller early, having won 11 straight games, before the Cardinal star made a gritty comeback and took seven consecutive games from the Swedish native. That’s when Söderlund determined enough was enough.

Having dropped the second set, 5-7, Söderlund called a five-minute break and left the court to have a moment of solitude and rallied himself.

“I told myself, ‘Dude, you can’t give up, for the team, for everyone out here. You can’t just let one set get you and let everyone down,’” Söderlund revealed afterward.

During that break he decided he had to return to the court with energy and it was his idea to emerge from the break room, running back onto the court with a towel to show Geller that he wasn’t going to roll over in the third set.

“I told myself that I needed to come out with the energy, because if I came out quiet, [Geller] was just going to keep shooting. I thought ‘energy, energy, energy,’ and it worked out. That was the key. I try to reset after every point. That has been a big theme of our team this year. I tried to follow that and do my best.”

Söderlund’s best was good enough.

UVA had trailed Stanford, 2-1, with the Cardinal winning at Nos. 4 and 5 singles before the Cavaliers’ Aswin Lizen won a key match at No. 6 singles, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, over Sangreet Sridhar, deadlocking the match at 2-2.

The pressure mounted on the top three singles matches in an intense, standing room only Boar’s Head setting.

UVA’s No. 2 singles freshman star Brandon Nakashima had opened with a 6-1 first set lead, but dropped the second, 4-6, to Stanford’s Alexandre Rotsaert. In fact, Nakashima trailed in the third set but came back strong to win, 6-3, and lifted the Cavaliers to a 3-2 lead. Meanwhile, senior Henrik Wiersholm was battling Stanford’s William Genesen, 7-6 (6-3), 5-5 in the second when Söderlund clinched the match.

Pedroso had to be excited when he saw Söderlund sprint back onto the court to start the third.

“Third sets are won at the beginning, usually,” the UVA coach said. “The guy that comes out with the best intensity is the one that usually comes out on top. I was impressed with our whole team. Henrik was super resilient out there, ran into a lot of adversity. Brandon was down 3-1 in the third and came back. That’s just what these guys do. It doesn’t surprise me that they did it again.”

Pedroso has commented for the past two weeks that his players simply refuse to give up, and pointed out that the Cavaliers have stolen plenty of matches this season with their gritty determination.

“I’ve told the guys we’ve won eight 4-2 (matches) and three out of four 4-3 (matches) this year,” Pedroso shared. “I told them before today’s match that no matter what the score is, we’re always in it. Never give up. They fight and always have faith.”

Pedroso actually believed the change from outdoors to indoors favored Stanford.

“I think it helped [the Cardinal] a little bit,” the coach said. “We started out well the first five minutes (indoors), and then [Stanford] got some momentum. For a California team, they came out and played pretty well indoors.”

The win propelled the Cavaliers into the NCAA quarterfinals for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.

Now it’s No. 5 UVA vs. No. 4 Wake Forest.

“It’s really special,” Pedroso said about returning the team to the national championships. “It’s great to be in the mix with the top eight teams. We’ve got a great match ahead of us against Wake Forest. We’ve played them a lot.

“They know us. We know them,” Pedroso said. “It’s always fun to go to the main event. That’s why these kids chose UVA.”

The Cavaliers and Demon Deacons have met three times in the outdoor season, and Wake holds a 2-1 lead in those matches. UVA won the first, 5-2, in Charlottesville in early February, while Wake won the second, 6-1, in Winston-Salem in mid-March. Wake also won a 4-2 win over the Cavaliers in the ACC Championship match last month.

“This is the most fun part of the year,” Söderlund said after his win. “It’s just fun.”

Especially when a player gets to rip his shirt off in celebration. No apologies necessary.