North Carolina women's tennis repeats as ACC Tournament champions
Jessie Aney swayed on the left side of her court.
Her back was hunched. The racquet was spinning in her hands. The third of three sets was at 5-4, and she was receiving for the match.
The team score was 2-3. One more loss, and the No. 3 North Carolina women’s tennis team would fall short to Georgia Tech for the second time this year — and in the most important contest of the year, no less.
The sophomore from Rochester, Minnesota, had already let multiple chances to close out the match slip away. But now, Georgia Tech’s Paige Hourigan had found her groove. Hourigan was dictating every point, not giving the Tar Heel any opportunity to attack or approach the net.
“Jessie’s match was kind of a roller coaster,” head coach Brian Kalbas said. “She got up 5-2 in the third and had several match points. There were two games in a row where she had no-ad match points...When it got to no-ad (at 5-4), it was a huge point because if she loses that, it’s five-all, and they have momentum.”
Simultaneously and directly adjacent to Aney’s court, North Carolina’s Alexa Graham had also pulled ahead of Georgia Tech’s Kenya Jones in the third. And the Tar Heel first-year was receiving, too.
Aney doesn’t remember much from this point on. She knows she blocked a serve back to Hourigan, and then Hourigan’s shot sailed long. She also knows that not two seconds after she clinched her match, Jones finished off her opponent, too.
In a matter of seconds, the Tar Heels went from being down one point to being repeat ACC Champions. That part was clear.
But for whatever reason, Aney forgot about the theatrics she put on display while she was swarming to her teammates’ embrace on Court 4.
“I actually had no idea that that happened until I watched the video,” Aney said. “And then I kind of had flashbacks to running at the net and then being like, ‘Oh my god, the net’s in the way. What do I do?’”
“I had to jump it, otherwise it would’ve taken too long to get to Alexa.”
She avoided a faceplant on the concrete and gracefully finished her jump with a twirl to redirect herself to the moshpit of hugs that was forming on Court Four. After squandering the doubles point, the Tar Heels won four of six singles matches to seize their second consecutive and third-all time ACC Championship.
Hayley Carter, who was awarded tournament MVP and notched the second singles win of the day, admits that the brevity of the wins didn’t sink in immediately. The unusual turn of events left North Carolina pleasantly stunned.
But give Carter time away from the celebration — on the team van that was Chapel Hill-bound — and everything sinks in. She references everything, from the team’s only loss in conference play at Georgia Tech a few weeks ago to a loss that could never be contextualized in the realm of sports.
“I think (the season) has been amazing,” Carter said. “We’ve definitely gone through tough times on and off the court with illnesses and different situations, so to come together at such a key time is really special.”
And, in essence, that’s a beauty of sports: You don’t have to remember everything, but if you do, the best parts are that much sweeter.
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