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North Carolina women’s tennis fell 4-3 to Northwestern

The North Carolina women’s tennis team lost a heartbreaker to Northwestern on Friday in a battle between two of the top-15 teams in the country.

UNC got off to a quick start by sweeping the doubles matches 8-1, 8-5, 8-4 to take the first point.

The UNC doubles team of senior Shinann Featherston and junior Lauren McHale destroyed the No. 6 Northwestern duo of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton, 8-1.

After standout freshman Caroline Price started singles play by winning in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, the Tar Heels were able to take an early 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t get to play doubles today, so just seeing my team out there fired up and pumped made me want to win for them,” Price said. “My team is really supportive, and it means so much that I can go out and win and get to play so well as a freshman.”

Price, the only freshman on the team, is already ranked 55th in the nation and was playing on the No. 3 court for the Tar Heels.

“She is learning how to compete in the college setting, and I thought she handled it well,” coach Brian Kalbas said. “For her to come off the court and win in two sets was great for us to re-establish some momentum, so I was really proud of her and her effort.”

But North Carolina could not hold its early lead. The Tar Heels lost three consecutive matches to fall behind 3-2.

Belinda Niu defeated junior Gina Suarez-Malaguti, 6-0, 6-1, on Court 4, Linda Abu Mushrefova followed with a 6-4, 6-1 win against sophomore Tessa Lyons on Court 5 and Nida Hamilton rallied after dropping the first set to beat sophomore Laura Slater 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 on Court 6.

“We were up in the first sets in four of the matches and we kind of let a couple of those slip away,” Kalbas said. “If we can keep those rolling, it might have been a different story.”

After the Wildcats took the lead, the burden fell on the shoulders of Featherston and McHale. Featherston won her first set and dropped the second, while McHale lost her first set but rallied to win the second.

In the third set, Featherston fell behind 4-2 and needed to break back to keep the Tar Heels in the match. Featherston rallied and went on to win the next four games to take the match 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 and tie the score at 3-3 for the Tar Heels.

“She was dominating a lot of the third set, but I just got it together and started to become more mentally tough than she was and it turned out well,” Featherston said.

“Being down 4-2 in the third set and just finding a way to pull it out, even though I was tired, I am just happy that I was able to pull it out for the team.”

With the score tied, it all came down to McHale, the Tar Heels top-ranked player. No. 16 McHale was matched up against the Wildcat’s top player, No. 26 Kate Turvy.

After winning the second set, McHale started to cramp up during the third set. Although she battled through the injury, she was unable to use her serve to control points and eventually fell short, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

The Tar Heels next match is Friday against USC in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.

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