The 6-1 win over Syracuse on Sunday also secured the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament for the Tar Heels.
For No. 3 UNC’s two seniors — Carter and Rachael James-Baker — this match brought a lot of emotions to their faces. Yes, it was the end of their regular season. But the win also signified the end of a long road filled with change and loss.
On March 25, Carter lost her hero and biggest fan — her dad. Without fail, her parents came to every home match since her first year at UNC. After scoring the winning point against Syracuse during her singles match, the crowd erupted in cheers and gave her a standing ovation. One of her two biggest supporters wasn’t there. So the sight of Carter’s mom brought tears to her eyes.
“Some days, when I’m out here in practice or out there in the match, it’s definitely harder than others,” Carter said. “Seeing my mom up in the stands kind of got me emotional.”
Leading up to the game, Carter emailed every professor, every friend, every family member who has supported her throughout her time at UNC.
“I honestly would say that I had a 70 percent success rate,” Carter said. “There were so many people out there to come and support me. It means the world to me, and the standing ovation at the end was so special.”
For James-Baker, the game signified the end of a long journey. After transferring from N.C. State after two years, spending a season at Baylor and sitting out a year at UNC, she finally had her start with the Tar Heels this season.
“When I first came here, (my teammates) were so warm,” James-Baker said. “We all love each other. We’re like a family, and we have each other’s backs. It’s really nothing I could’ve ever dreamed of.”
Although the seniors had their own struggles along the journey, the team became stronger because of them. And after four seasons, Carter has the resume to prove it.
Throughout her senior season, she has persevered — through crippling injuries and emotional trials — to preserve a 23-0 singles record and 23-0 doubles record in dual matches during her final year in Chapel Hill.
“Hayley’s broken every record in the book ...” head coach Brian Kalbas said. “You can’t replace her. She’s just one of those special people ...”
“Every time she plays, you just have to marvel at how she plays. You’re seeing greatness out there. I’m just really proud to have the opportunity to coach her ... She’s one of those special people who comes around once a decade, once in a lifetime.”