Tennis freshman Loeb serves up success

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Freshman tennis player Jamie Loeb came to UNC as the top-ranked tennis recruit and has
recently won the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

On Sunday, Nov. 10, North Carolina women’s tennis player Jamie Loeb arrived back in Chapel Hill with a national title.

But there was no public celebration. No crowd awaited her in Chapel Hill. Instead, she was greeted by an 8 a.m. class the next morning.

And at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center — just two days removed from taking the title — it was business as usual. Loeb shared some laughs with coaches and teammates, warmed up and prepared for an hourlong practice.

The music blared, everyone seemed relaxed and a content Loeb was right in her comfort zone. Similar to the casual practice on a November afternoon, Loeb has quietly become one of the best tennis players in the country.

She’s a singles, doubles and national champion with a 19-1 record. And if those accolades aren’t impressive enough — Loeb is just a freshman.

A quick start

She came in with high expectations as the No. 1 recruit by TennisRecruiting.net , but Loeb has already exceeded them.

It’s a start that coach Brian Kalbas has never seen from a freshman in his 11 years at the helm of the program.

During a span of 10 days, Loeb battled through three rounds to win the singles title at the 2013 Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships in early October. She won a doubles title with fellow freshman Hayley Carter at the ITA Carolinas Regional later in the month. And most recently, Loeb captured the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

In her short time donning a UNC uniform, Loeb said her massive success is a result of practice, time management and dedication.

“I’ve been putting a lot of hours in on the court,” Loeb said. “I’ve always come in with goals for what I want to work on and what I want to improve on.”

In the fall season, Loeb defeated the preseason ITA top four ranked players.

The edge against her opponents, she said, stems from her competitiveness on the court.

“My feistiness and willingness to compete and succeed has given me a chance to be where I am right now,” Loeb said. “Most of these girls are great competitors, but I’m the type of player that doesn’t want to lose a single point.”

Kalbas said he prefers an incremental process of growth and wants his players to keep raising the bar. As for Loeb, there’s no ceiling for her potential.

“It’s really impressive to see someone so young, mature and so organized with herself on and off the court to have so much success,” Kalbas said.

Living in a tennis world

Growing up in New York, tennis was practically an extension of the family for Loeb. She began to play when she was just 3 years old. Her older sister received a scholarship to play tennis at Wake Forest and both of her brothers played when they were younger.

And because Loeb is so close to her family, winning a national championship in Flushing, N.Y. — just 30 miles from her hometown — made it particularly special.

“It’s great having everybody there and supporting me, especially because it’s at home,” Loeb said.

During her junior and senior years of high school, Loeb was home-schooled and completed the Laurel Springs School program — an accredited, private online school. Loeb said the home schooling helped her tennis training at the John McEnroe Academy.

“It gave me more time to train and travel to tournaments whereas if I returned back to school, I couldn’t compete as much,” Loeb said.

Felix Alvarado began coaching Loeb two years ago at John McEnroe Academy. And he knew from the beginning that she was a special player.

Alvarado, who is the assistant director of tennis at SPORTIME Randall’s Island in New York, said he still talks to Loeb and watched her dominant run, including her national title last weekend.

Alvarado said Loeb never ceases to astonish him.

“I’m a little surprised,” Alvarado said. “I knew she was going to do well, but I did not know that she was going to do that well in the first couple of months there in college. She’s just playing amazing tennis, she’s working hard, she’s learning, she’s having fun.”

Journey to UNC

As for how Loeb ended up coming to UNC, Kalbas referred to the old adage, “Better to be lucky than good.” Kalbas said a recruiting letter was sent to Loeb, but the team didn’t hear anything from her, so her interest was unclear.

But fortunately for Kalbas, Loeb’s family came to the rescue. Her sister, Jenna, was recruited by UNC a few years earlier and was actually hosted by assistant coach Sara Anundsen back when Anundsen competed for UNC.

“I guess we showed her that we were good people, so her sister … reached out to us that Jamie was interested in us,” Kalbas said. “So that opened the door to help us reconnect with her.”

Loeb said she chose UNC because of its strong athletic and academic programs and because she connected with the team, particularly Carter, her doubles partner.

Carter said she and Loeb met when they were both 8 years old and have been good friends ever since. She committed first and hoped that Loeb would follow suit.

“After I committed … I sent her a message like, ‘I hope you enjoyed your visit and I hope you’re really considering this program,’’’ Carter said.

“So I like to think I had some influence on her decision,” she joked.

For Loeb, the future looks bright both as an athlete and a student. Anundsen said Loeb has been professional about balancing her academics with her rigorous traveling schedule. And after an eventful fall season, Loeb is back in Chapel Hill, continuing to quietly concentrate on her studies and perfect her game.

But come January, Loeb will return to competition.

And she has no plans of slowing down.

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