With just its third loss of the season, the No. 2 North Carolina women’s tennis team was knocked out of the ACC Tournament in the semifinals this weekend.
The narrow 4-3 loss came at the hands of the same team that ended UNC’s season last year in the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 – the Miami Hurricanes.
“We don’t really favor Miami,” senior Lauren McHale said. “They beat us last year at NCAA’s so there’s definitely a rivalry forming. We really wanted to win this championship but they really wanted it too and they took it from us.”
After a 4-0 quarterfinal victory over N.C. State on Friday that was closer than the score suggested, the Tar Heels were eager to continue a run to their fourth consecutive ACC Tournament final.
“Our team, we just love the tournament environment,” sophomore Caroline Price said. “We’re just pumped up because we’ve never won a conference and an ACC title, so we’re excited for all this.”
But the Hurricanes spoiled UNC’s bid for a tournament title to go along with its regular season ACC Championship.
In doubles, the Tar Heels gave up a 5-0 lead on court three, losing 8-6 before a comeback win for UNC on court one brought the doubles point down to a tiebreak on court two. But Miami came out with a win there as well to claim the first point of the match.
“I think we got a little overconfident and tried to do too much when a simple play was working,” Kalbas said of the team’s inability to close out the doubles point. “We got tentative and hesitant and started forcing things so obviously that was disappointing.”
Down 1-0 after losing the doubles point to the Hurricanes, the Tar Heels needed victories in four of the six singles matches to keep their tournament hopes alive. They got off to a good start early with a strong 6-2, 6-2 win by freshman Kate Vialle to tie the match 1-1.
The two teams then traded points when a loss by Price – just her second of the season – gave Miami the lead and a win by McHale tied it once again.
“I just tried to stay focused and run down every single ball and just keep fighting,” McHale said.
After a third set loss by freshman Whitney Kay and a comeback victory for senior Gina Suarez-Malaguti tied the match once again, the day came down to senior Zoe De Bruycker.
But De Bruycker couldn’t get the best of her aggressive opponent to pull out the win and UNC’s tournament was over.
“Usually I like to be in that situation, usually I don’t mind those pressure situations and I want to be the last one there to do it for my team,” De Bruycker said. “But obviously today it didn’t really work out.”
Suarez-Malaguti said that it would take her a couple of days to get over this loss before she could move on to the NCAA Tournament.
“We were doing well and then we got complacent and let it slip through our fingers,” she said. “(Miami’s) a very tough team, they weren’t going to hand it to us and there were moments when it was right there and we just didn’t finish.”
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