For Marika Akkerman and Cassandra Vazquez — both freshmen — the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational in Orlando was unlike anything they’d experienced before.
It was the largest clay-court event in college tennis. It featured many of the country’s top players. Every athlete received credentials upon arrival. And it was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
“It was almost like playing in a professional tournament,” said assistant women’s tennis coach Courtney Nagle.
If Akkerman and Vazquez felt overwhelmed, they didn’t show it. They both performed up to or better than expectations. Akkerman earned a first round win before bowing out to the tournament’s top seed; Vazquez knocked off the No. 7 overall seed to reach the quarterfinals; and together they nearly defeated the No. 1-seeded Auburn doubles team in the second round.
As the Tar Heels’ only two representatives at the tournament, Akkerman and Vazquez were joined only by Nagle in Orlando. The rest of their teammates stayed in Chapel Hill to prepare for the upcoming ITA National Indoor Championships in New York with head coach Brian Kalbas.