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UNC women’s tennis freshman Tessa Lyons sees hard work pay off

Being a first-year collegiate athlete is never easy, especially when fighting for playing time on the third-ranked North Carolina tennis team.

But UNC freshman Tessa Lyons knows that all she can do is to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to her.

“It is hard when you don’t know if you are playing or not, especially when your team is doing so well without you,” Lyons said. “It is just hard to keep working and believing that your team needs you.

“But when you get that chance, you have to really take it and not let anything stop you.”

The Tar Heels needed her to deliver Wednesday against No. 4 Duke. Lyons, an unranked Tar Heel playing on the sixth court, upset No. 64 Mary Clayton, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2.

Lyons’ performance against Duke was a continuation of her recent string of impressive play. In UNC’s match against Virginia last week, the decision came down to her. A win against UVa’s Maria Fuccillo secured the win for the Tar Heels.

Even though UNC lost the match to Duke, 4-3, Lyons’ play was a bright spot for the Tar Heels.

“What an amazing and competitive spirit Tessa had today,” UNC coach Brian Kalbas said. “It is a real tribute to her.”

Lyons said she was able to pull off the upset due to careful game planning and an unwavering belief in herself.

“I knew going into the match that I was the better competitor because I believe in myself, so I just competed until the end and it worked,” Lyons said.

Lyons’ strategy in the match was to stay up on the baseline and not get pushed back so that she could dictate the points instead of allowing her opponent to control play.

After taking the first set 6-4, Lyons was held scoreless in the second set, and she made several unforced errors.

But her confidence never faltered.

“I just felt in the third set I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” Lyons said. “I knew going into the match that the girl was going to be strong and she definitely hits a big ball, but I felt that if I could stick to my game plan then I could win.”

Lyons made a statement with her win. And for a freshman who is still trying to find her niche on a nationally ranked team, a win against a top Duke player only adds to her confidence.

“I can do anything and I really should not go out and doubt myself,” Lyons said. “People should be intimidated to play us because we play for Carolina.”

With such a talented team, playing time can be hard to come by. But a victory like Lyons had against Duke will only help the freshman in the long run.

“For her to compete like that and beat one of their strongest players should really be a big confidence-builder for her because she had not been in the lineup regularly until about a week ago,” Kalbas said. “I am just happy for her to see her hard work finally start to pay off.”

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