Women's tennis takes on Norfolk, ECU in last dual before conference play

Last week, the tennis courts outside of the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center were coated with a sheet of fresh snow.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina women’s tennis team took to the dry courts — for the first time this season — on a peculiarly warm February day, fresh after a week-long break following the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.

The Tar Heels faced off in their last dual match before conference play, handling Norfolk State and in-state rival East Carolina, 7-0 and 6-1.

Following the matches, coach Brian Kalbas shied away from talking about his team’s performance, instead focusing on the atmosphere.

“It’s just good to be outside, “ said coach Brian Kalbas. “We have such a great venue here. It’s nice to get out and play under the lights.”

Sophomore Kate Vialle and senior Laura Slater started off the day with a quick 8-0 win against Norfolk State’s Liza Gordeeva and Yvonne Kamegne. Junior Caroline Price and senior Tessa Lyons followed with an 8-1 thrashing of Spartans Krystal Scott and Marie Habiyaremye to claim the doubles point for the Tar Heels.

Singles action included more of the same for the Tar Heels (8-2), as none of the team’s six singles players lost a set.

Price, ranked No. 67 in the nation, carried over her strong performance from her doubles match, dominating Kamegne 6-0, 6-0. Jamie Loeb, who recently rose to the No. 1 ranking for women’s singles, took down the Spartan’s Gordeeva by a score of 6-3, 6-1.

No. 106 Ashley Dai clinched the match against Norfolk State with a 6-0, 6-0 win against Habiyaremye. And after the final three matches ended, the Tar Heels prevailed by a final score of 7-0.

North Carolina returned to the outdoor courts for their second match of the day against ECU, and the result was much like the first. The Tar Heels handled the Pirates en route to a 6-1 win.

Vialle and Slater continued their doubles dominance against ECU, topping the Pirates’ Dana Gray and Maria Storozheva by a score of 8-1. Loeb and Whitney Kay took on East Carolina’s Michelle Castro and Nicole LaDuca, earning a 8-2 win to put the Tar Heels up 1-0 going into singles competition.

Vialle was a force to be reckoned with in her second singles match of the day as well, collecting a 6-0, 6-0 win against LaDuca. She attributed some of her success to carried over momentum from her defeat of Georgia’s Mia King at the ITA Championships last week.

“There were a lot of things that I improved on in that match that carried over to today,” Vialle said.

“It’s just something that I need to carry throughout the rest of the season.”

Vialle overcame a 9-4 deficit in the third set of her match against King on Feb. 9, winning seven straight games to clinch the match and the victory for the Tar Heels.

The Pirates’ only point came in a heated match between Kay and ECU’s Melis Tanik. In a match that involved yelling by both opponents and even an injury, Tanik pulled out the first set 7-5 before the match was stopped.

With the wins against both Norfolk State and ECU, the Tar Heels will now shift their focus to conference play. This year, the ACC is filled with worthy competitors, including seven teams ranked in the top 25.

Wednesday’s matches put non-conference play on hold for the No. 6 Tar Heels. But UNC does have some experience facing an ACC competitor this season, falling 4-2 to No. 1 Duke at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 8.

“It was a great experience for us to play Duke before conference play,” said coach Brian Kalbas.

“They played with a lot of passion, and I know we’re going to see more of the same when we play them again.”

The Tar Heels will play Duke for the second time on March 2 in Durham.

As far as expectations for conference play, both Kalbas and Vialle said that the team will need to stay strong to compete for the ACC Championships in April.

“One of things that we need to work on is our recovery,” Vialle said.

“We have a few players who have been injured, and we are going to need to play smart to stay healthy. It’s a long season.”

Kalbas said that the team is going to face some tough competition in the upcoming weeks but believes that the team can build off some of their matches that they’ve already had against some tenacious opponents.

But Wednesday, UNC cherished the brief moment in the sun — the quiet before the storm that is ACC play.

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