Top-seeded UNC women’s tennis team looks to capture elusive NCAA outdoor title

·4 min read

North Carolina women’s tennis players met on a video call before their second practice on Thursday and were asked to summarize their emotions in one word heading into Friday’s NCAA outdoor tournament quarterfinal matchup with No. 8 seed Pepperdine.

Excited and hopeful were the words most used, although if any of the players were seeking revenge or redemption, that would have been acceptable too for the No. 1 seed Tar Heels.

The Heels were also the No. 1 seed a year ago when Pepperdine defeated them in the national semifinals. And, should they get past the Wave to again reach the semifinals, the Heels potentially could face No. 5 seed Virginia, which snapped their streak of five straight ACC championships by defeating UNC in the semifinals.

The greater goal for Carolina is claiming an elusive national outdoor title. While it has won five ITA national team indoor titles — including this season’s win over Oklahoma — it has yet to translate to an NCAA outdoor championship despite several years of having a team good enough to do it.

“We’ve got to be playing well at the right time, you got to get the right bounces at the right time,” UNC coach Brian Kalbas said. “I appreciate the consistency that we’ve had over the last 10-11 years and we’re knocking on the door every year and it’s that’s the exciting part for me.”

The Heels reached the championship in 2014 and were leading in the last match on the court when Kalbas said a bad call on break point that would have meant a 4-2 lead turned the momentum of the match and they lost. In 2020, the Heels were the top seed, undefeated and had also won the indoor title that year when the pandemic cut the season short.

Carolina (27-2) has been playing like a team obsessed with winning the title even if the players aren’t saying the quiet part out loud. UNC has yet to lose a point while advancing to the quarterfinals with 4-0 match wins against South Carolina State, South Carolina and Florida.

Sophomore Fiona Crawley, who plays No. 4 singles and No. 1 doubles with Elizabeth Scotty, believes Carolina’s experience will pay off for them.

“We’ve been in this position before,” Crawley said. “We’re all really ambitious, but we’re all really grounded at this point.”

What’s different is how recent the Heels have lost matches. The sting from losing to Duke in the last regular season match and to the Cavaliers in the ACC semifinals is still fresh in their minds too. Kalbas said he hoped those reminders would help as they try to close in on a title in Champaign, Illinois.

“We haven’t really had too many losses and that maybe hurt us in the past,” Kalbas said. “This year, we’ve actually taken a couple of losses recently so hopefully, that might make us hungry or a little bit more battle tested.”

Carolina has had to make adjustments this season while Phase II of renovations take place at its Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. The Heels played their home matches in Carrboro this season at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club and many times had to drive to practice at the Cary Tennis Park.

After losing three of their top four players from last season, Kalbas wasn’t sure the Heels would even be in this position as a No. 1 seed and advancing to the quarterfinals when the season began. That’s why he doesn’t believe the Heels have any added pressure to claim the title.

“We still have that goal of a championship,” Kalbas said. “But if we slip and we don’t accomplish it, I would still look at this season as an incredible success story.”

University of North Carolina Women’s Tennis v Florida Cary Tennis Park Cary, NC Friday, May 13, 2022
University of North Carolina Women’s Tennis v Florida Cary Tennis Park Cary, NC Friday, May 13, 2022

N.C. State vs Duke

The No. 3 seed Blue Devils face the No. 6 seed Wolfpack in the quarterfinals on the opposite side of the bracket from UNC. N.C. State is looking to reach the semifinals for a second straight season.

Duke won the regular season meeting, 4-3, thanks to two singles matches that came down to third set tiebreakers. Chloe Beck beat Abigail Rencheli in No. 2 singles 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3) and Ellie Coleman beat Sophie Abrams in No. 5 singles 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) to claim the match win for the Blue Devils.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting