The University of Virginia’s new head tennis coaches spent much of Monday and Tuesday together on Grounds. That followed weeks of texts and phone calls between Andres Pedroso and Sara O’Leary, dialogue that strengthened their nascent working relationship.
With every conversation, Pedroso said Tuesday, “I would get more conviction that we made the right decision, because she’s going to do a great job.”
In late May, Pedroso was hired to replace Brian Boland as the head men’s tennis coach at UVA. Pedroso, a former assistant coach under Boland, also was named director of tennis, a new position at Virginia.
In that role, Pedroso participated in the Cavaliers’ search for a new head women’s coach, which ended this month with the hiring of O’Leary, a former University of North Carolina standout who later was an assistant at her alma mater.
“We didn’t know each other before this, but we knew of each other, because we both were assistant coaches in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] at the same time,” said O’Leary, whose maiden name is Anundsen. “He was at UVA when I was at UNC. So we saw each other at tournaments.”
Pedroso, UVA’s associate head men’s coach from the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2014, remembered O’Leary from her days on the UNC women’s staff, and he had heard others in the coaching profession praise her.
“I always thought she did a great job,” Pedroso said. “Because it always just seemed like she was so positive and her players were in a good mood around her. There was just good energy on the court when she was there.
“So I just kept her in the back of my mind, and when this opportunity showed up, she definitely was one of the first people who came to mind. And I did a little research on her online. I also found out that she was at Davidson and she’d had a successful three years there.”
After calling O’Leary and confirming that the UVA job interested her, Pedroso said, he then “spent a lot of time with her on the phone and in person and learned as much as I could about her. And every time I spoke to her, I thought, ‘She’d be amazing. She’s the one.’”
After six years as an assistant at UNC, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007, O’Leary took over at Davidson in July 2014. Under O’Leary, the Wildcats finished 12-10 in 2015, 18-5 in 2016 and 15-6 this season. She was named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 2016.
At Davidson, the men’s and women’s programs operated independently of each other, as was the case at UVA until Pedroso’s hiring.
O’Leary said she and Pedroso are “planning on working together in a lot of different ways and helping each other. That’s something that I’m extremely excited about that I didn’t have at Davidson.”
Pedroso said he envisions “really close relationships” between the programs, “not just with the coaches, but little by little with the players. Just a lot more camaraderie, a lot more communication and doing things together, such as some team meetings and community service and team dinners.”
He’s interested in “building relationships,” Pedroso said, “because I think that’s a big reason why on the men’s side we’ve had so much success. Not that we haven’t had success on the women’s side, but on the men’s side we’ve got so many great relationships around this program, and that’s always been one of the pillars of the culture.”
From Boland, who was at Virginia for 16 seasons, Pedroso inherited a program that has won three straight NCAA team titles and four of the past five. Moreover, UVA men have captured four NCAA singles titles: Somdev Devvarman in 2007 and ’08, Ryan Shane in ’15, and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski this year.
“I think that there’s so much that our team can learn from the men’s team,” O’Leary said. “There’s so much I can learn from Andres. He was here when they won their first national championship. And there might be some things that the men’s team can learn from the women’s team. I think the fact that we’re willing to share ideas and support each other is only going to make both programs stronger.”
In 12 seasons under Mark Guilbeau, who resigned in early May, the UVA women advanced to the NCAA tournament 10 times. They won ACC titles in 2014 and 2015 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals in each of those seasons. In 2014, Danielle Collins became the first woman in UVA history to win an NCAA singles title, and she added another crown as a senior in 2016.
Injuries and illnesses hammered the Virginia women this year. The Cavaliers, with a roster that included no seniors, finished 7-7 in the ACC and 11-13 overall. Their returning players include rising sophomore Rosie Johanson, who made the All-ACC second team this year. Two recruits will join the program this summer.
“I think that if we can keep the women healthy, we’ve got a really good team,” Pedroso said.
O’Leary said: “The girls all seem really excited and fired up and very motivated, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Pedroso said he sees no reason the women’s program can’t be as successful as the men’s at UVA.
“We have the same resources on [each side],” Pedroso said. “It’s just about building a little more of a culture of discipline, communication, relationships, and surrounding them with great people and making sure it’s an enjoyable and positive experience for them.”
At Central Florida, head men’s coach John Roddick also has the title of director of tennis, and Pedroso has spoken to Roddick about the challenges of overseeing two programs.
Mostly, however, he’s leaned on Boland, “because he did such a great job with the men’s side,” Pedroso said. “And my whole plan is to translate a lot of that over to the women’s side. I was here for four years with him, and I understand the system. So I think we can do that, and I think we can have a lot of the same success on the women’s side eventually.”
O’Leary, who grew up in Colorado, considered such schools as Duke, Georgia and Vanderbilt before choosing North Carolina. She was a two-time All-American for the Tar Heels and as a senior teamed with Jenna Long to win the NCAA doubles title.
Her husband, Tom O’Leary, grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he was living there when the head job at nearby Davidson opened.
“So I ended up moving to Charlotte and it worked out great,” O’Leary said. “We got married a year later.”
From playing and coaching against UVA during her time at UNC, O’Leary had some familiarity with her new school.
“I know that it’s an incredible institution, and it’s very attractive to a lot of young female tennis players,” she said. “Great facilities, great academics.
“I always had a great impression of UVA. I played at Carolina and I worked there for six years, but I am so excited to represent Virginia, and I’ve been getting used to saying, ‘Go ’Hoos!’”
That she comes to Charlottesville with experience as a head coach, O’Leary believes, will help her tremendously.
“I learned so much during my time at Davidson, just how everything works on the administrative side of things,” O’Leary said. “All the decisions come down to me. I had a great relationship with my assistant, and I had a great relationship with the head coach I worked with at UNC, so I was used to talking about those decisions. But ultimately having the decisions come down to me and being that leader, I got that experience at Davidson.”