McHale and Lyons emerge as stars for women's tennis

Even though the fall tennis season is ending, a new North Carolina women’s tennis team is beginning to emerge.

Two names kept showing up in the winner’s bracket at the Kitty Harrison Invitational this weekend — senior Lauren McHale and junior Tessa Lyons.

McHale placed second in the singles draw while Lyons finished third. Together, they earned first place in doubles.

Coach Brian Kalbas paired the two this season to compete as a doubles team, but the duo almost didn’t make it past their first match of the tournament.

“The first round they really struggled. They were down 5-1, 40-15 and they could’ve lost in the first round,” Kalbas said. “But they got better and better as the tournament went on.”

After their rocky start, the doubles partners moved through to the semifinals where they tackled a pair from Virginia. McHale and Lyons secured their title with a win against Maria Voscekova and Dominika Zaprazna of Marshall.

Kalbas said it’s the chemistry between McHale and Lyons that makes the two Tar Heels so successful.

“They complement each other well in certain ways,” Kalbas said. “They have good energy together. They like each other. They compete well together.”

That chemistry has been developing since Lyons’ freshman year, when McHale transferred from Princeton. Lyons said it was their shared rookie experience at UNC that jump-started their friendship.

“We immediately became friends and ever since then, we’ve had a really good connection,” Lyons said.

McHale and Lyons were not immediately paired-up, though. McHale was notably partnered with Shinann Featherston.

“They were perfect together,” Lyons said of Featherston and McHale. “They were top-10 both years. They were an amazing addition to our team.”

McHale’s and Lyons’ doubles partners both graduated last spring.

McHale missed practice during the summer because of a foot injury. When she returned, Kalbas placed the two together.

“The coach just put us together, basically,” McHale said. “I asked if he could put us together, too, because she has a great backhand and I play the forehand side. I knew with her backhand and how deep and penetrating her balls are I could really do well at net.”

Lyons agreed that their technical abilities meshed well but added that it was their consistent energy that really helped the pair succeed.

“I think we work really well together because every match we’re not always going to come out playing our best,” Lyons said. “What we do really well is if one person’s down, the other picks the other person up. We kind of balance each other out.”

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