CARY, N.C. - A 4-0 tennis loss might sound like a cut-and-dried shutout, but Chuck McCuen knows better.
Clemson's men's tennis coach was in a decidedly up-beat mood after his Tigers fell to unbeaten, year-long No. 1 Virginia Saturday in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
Because the Tigers were playing in the ACC semis for the first time in six years. Because they're headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. And because they gave what McCuen described as "a pro-level team - the best in the nation" all it could handle, all-matches, top-to-bottom.
Virginia, 23-0 and the winner of more than a hundred consecutive ACC matches, answered the challenge and took care of its business.
The Tigers, meanwhile, walked away a better team than when the match began, McCuen said.
"I told the guys to just keep doing what they're doing," said McCuen. "This is a team with great seniors, guys who believed in us four years ago and made a pledge to each other that each year and each match we're going to get better. We're getting the result, finally.
"What I love about these guys is that they've persevered and sustained. While it hurts that we didn't get the win today, we got better today. That's all we preach - every match is just another match and a chance to get a little bit better. We got better today."
The Tigers pushed the Cavaliers in every match on Saturday, but were unable to swing the momentum after Virginia opened by winning the doubles point.
Virginia won the doubles point for their 18th straight match, and 22nd time in 23 matches this season, to take a 1-0 lead. Justin Shane and Julen Urigen defeated Hunter Harrington and Gerardo Meza, 8-5 on court three to give the Cavaliers an early edge, and then Alex Domijan and Mitchell Frank, ranked 16th in the nation, defeated Zachary Rigsby and Ayrton Wibowo, 8-5 on court two to clinch the point.
In singles play, the Cavaliers pressed their advantage, led by two of the nation's top three players, No. 1 Domijan and No. 3 Jarmere Jenkins.
Virginia’s points came on courts three, four, and six singles. Shane defeated freshman Austin Ansari, 6-3, 6-2 on court six to give the Cavs a 2-0 lead. Gerardo Meza fell on court three to No. 39 Mitchell Frank, 6-1, 6-3, and then the clinching win came when No. 69 Ryan Shane defeated Dominique Maden at four, 7-6, 6-4.
Rigsby gave the Tigers a set victory at No. 6.
"We were so close, and that gives us confidence," McCuen said. "We're going to crush school, because that's what we do, and then we're get after it hard for a week getting ready for the NCAA tournament. Everybody knows what they have to do individually, and we know what we're going to do as coaches. We're going to make a deep run."
The NCAA tournament selection show will take place on Tuesday.
“I’m fired up,” said McCuen. “I cannot wait. It’s been four years to get here, and I won’t lie to you, it's been disappointing not to get there before now. But this is meaningful because it’s with the guys that we have raised up.”