The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Spring Sports - Men's Tennis Eyes ACC Title

Nothing's for sure on North Carolina's men tennis team.

Everything from uncertainty surrounding its top six players to injuries to an upset loss to Furman could make some coaches worry about the future.

But Sam Paul doesn't worry. Instead, the Tar Heels' coach is looking forward to the rest of the year and sees his club as a contender for the ACC title.

"Our goals are still the same as always," Paul said. "We want to win the ACC and make it into the NCAA tournament."

Last year, UNC fell just short of one goal.

With the return of senior All-American Tripp Phillips from surgery, UNC finished 2000 with a 18-6 record, but placed second to Duke in the ACC standings at 6-2.

The Tar Heels went on to the NCAA tournament, losing to regional host and national semifinalist Tennessee 4-2 in the second round.

It's hard to say what UNC has in store this season, even after four matches and a fall season filled with competitive tournaments.

Phillips is gone, and senior Chad Riley recently returned from an injury which had sidelined him since August. Sophomore Tyne Brownlow has also caught the injury bug and is likely out for the season.

"We've had a couple of guys hurt," senior David Cheatwood said. "But everybody's play benefits from it because they get experience at a higher seed. We're looking to prove something and hopefully, in the end, we'll be high in the rankings."

Injuries have contributed to an unsteady lineup so far, one which Paul said he is hopeful will become steady with more match play.

"It's so early to tell where it's going to end up," Paul said. "Everybody's playing in a different spot so you can't make any judgements."

And the same goes for UNC's shocking loss to Furman. The players recognized in a hurry that upsets are frequent in collegiate tennis, and early judgements on a season are impossible to make.

"It burned a fire inside of us," freshman Nicholas Monroe said. "We sense a little bit of urgency now, which is making us work even harder in practice.

"But we still have confidence that every time we come on the court we have a chance to beat anyone in the nation."

The Tar Heels still remain among the best teams in the country. Currently, UNC is ranked No. 26 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

Even though No. 6 Duke was the only conference team ranked higher than the Tar Heels last year, the ACC is loaded with experienced teams.

According to Paul, five conference schools welcome back all of last year's starters. Duke isn't one of them, but the Blue Devils still boast a solid unit in defense of last year's ACC title.

That doesn't change Cheatwood's positive outlook for this year.

"I still think we're right up there with the best in the conference," Cheatwood said. "Last year was good but this year has plenty of potential."

Yet Paul pushes for constant improvement at all times to match his team's potential.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

"A lot of teams have a lot of players back," Paul said. "We will have to get better every single day to play well in the ACC."

And that's for certain.