Looking back on the season: Tar Heel women's tennis

Despite a quarterfinal exit in the NCAA Tournament, the North Carolina women’s tennis program reached new heights this season.

Senior Zoe De Bruycker said the season was a success as a whole.

“It’s been one of the most fun seasons I’ve had,” De Bruycker said. “The team that we’ve had this year was really special. We set a lot of records and standards this season. Hopefully in the next couple years, the girls can do even better. It’s been a good year, and I’m just sad it’s over now.”

Senior Gina Suarez-Malaguti said she was proud of the team because of the fight they showed even in defeat.

“It doesn’t feel like last year when we lost to Miami,” Suarez-Malaguti said. “I felt that time that I could’ve done more, and we deserved that loss because we hadn’t worked as hard. This year was completely different — I felt that my team worked hard the whole time, every day.”

Even though she gave it her all, Suarez-Malaguti said she still felt the pain from the loss.

“After winning the doubles point, I could taste the final four,” she said. “I could smell it, I could sense it under my feet, the courts underneath me, the crowd behind me — I could sense it like the final four my freshman year. To have it all go away was a heartbreaker.”

The team had the right mix of senior leadership and young, underclassman talent that created a team ripe for success. This year, the team won the program’s first national championship after winning the ITA National Indoors Championship in February. They followed that up by winning the ACC regular season championship.

For most of the season, the Tar Heels held the No. 1 ranking in the country, and going into the NCAA Tournament, UNC had the No. 2 overall seed — tied with the 2010 team for the highest ranking in program history.

But the team success came as a result of the individual efforts of each woman on the team. While each woman played an integral role in the success of the team, Suarez-Malaguti, freshman Whitney Kay and sophomore Caroline Price made some of the biggest improvements.

Suarez-Malaguti had played mostly in the lower half of the singles seeds in her career, but after dedicating herself to getting fit and working on her game, she became UNC’s top singles player and the No. 7 player in the country. Suarez-Malaguti won ACC Player of the Year as well as ITA Carolina Regions Senior Player of the Year.

Kay burst onto the scene as a freshman with a third set tiebreaker victory to win the indoor championship for UNC. Kay also received honors, winning the ITA Carolina Regions Rookie of the Year award.

Finally, Price stepped up her game this year after a solid freshman campaign. She went undefeated in dual match singles play before losing to Florida State in April.

Coach Brian Kalbas said in terms of accomplishments, this was probably the best team he’s had at UNC.

“We tried to get the most out of every player, and I think every player maxed her potential, so that makes it satisfying,” Kalbas said. “Every year it gets a little better, and our program can accomplish more things. It’s been a special year and a special group, and I can’t thank them enough.”

De Bruycker said she would look back on the season as one of her best, both on and off the court.

“I’m going to look back at all the successes we’ve had but also the people,” De Bruycker said. “That’s more important than any titles we’ve won — just being able to play next to all my teammates and spending time with all my teammates and coaches. It’s been a really special team this year.”

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