UNC women's tennis hosts quali?er for ITA indoor crown

In the office of North Carolina women’s tennis coach Brian Kalbas, numerous trophies are lying in various spots, almost completely filling the room’s open space.

But for Kalbas, UNC’s past successes mean only one thing for this year’s Tar Heels.

“What it does mean is that we get to host this kickoff weekend,” Kalbas said.

Because UNC ended last season ranked in the top 15, this Saturday the No. 8 Tar Heels have the opportunity to host a qualifier for the ITA National Indoor Championship in Charlottesville, Va., Feb. 8 to Feb. 11.

UNC started its spring season with a strong performance Wednesday. The Tar Heels defeated UNC-Greensboro and Elon without losing a team point.

But this weekend the team will have to face stiffer competition in an Auburn team that boasts two doubles pairs ranked in the top 30.

“To play them in the first match is going to be a strong test, which we’re really excited about,” Kalbas said. “We pride ourselves on being challenged and playing the best.”

Senior co-captain Gina Suarez-Malaguti said that though the Tar Heels have qualified each of the past three years, qualifying this year is a bigger challenge.

The Tar Heels hope to respond to Auburn’s doubles strength with a top-10 doubles pair of their own in freshmen Ashley Dai and Whitney Kay.

Sophomore Caroline Price thinks doubles wins have a potential to translate into confidence that could propel UNC past the Tigers.

“Even though doubles (are) only one point, since it’s at the beginning it kind of sets the tone,” Price said. “If we could show them that we’re going to be tough, that we’re going to be solid, and come out strong, it could change the whole rest of the match.”

Since doubles matches only account for a small portion of the meet’s final score, the Tar Heels will have to rely heavily on their seven ranked singles players.

Suarez-Malaguti said having such great individual talent on the team is encouraging.

“Knowing how good of a team we are, we can set the standard high,” Suarez-Malaguti said. “Now it’s down to putting in the work.”

If UNC wins against Auburn, it will meet the winner of a match up between Virginia Commonwealth and DePaul Sunday to determine which team will make the trip to Charlottesville.

VCU, DePaul and Auburn all chose to compete in Chapel Hill this weekend, knowing they could eventually face the Tar Heels. But Suarez-Malaguti doesn’t think any team should take UNC lightly.

“I don’t want them picking us thinking that we are an easy target,” Suarez-Malaguti said.

For Price, qualifying this weekend is the next step toward the bigger goal of contending for a national championship.

“I think it’s really important to show all the other top teams we can compete with them and that we’re a threat,” Price said.

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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