Mental toughness is an odd term. Sport psychologists struggle to define it, yet athletes strive for it, coaches preach it, and fans know it when they see it — it’s the unmistakable hallmark of championship teams.
It was a good sign, then, that the No. 12 North Carolina men’s tennis team displayed it last week as it opened the conference slate. Playing without ninth-ranked sophomore Brayden Schnur, who missed all three of the spring-break matches due to injury, and without senior Esben Hess-Olesen on the singles court, the Tar Heels picked up three ACC wins against N.C. State, Florida State, and Miami.
“I definitely think we’re all satisfied coming out with three wins over spring break,” said Hess-Olesen, who partnered with fellow senior Oystein Steiro on the doubles court. “Since I was a freshman, we’ve always had tough matches against those three teams. And considering our situation with Brayden being out and me not being able to play singles, I think everyone’s really happy that we got away with three solid wins.”
The wins didn’t come easy — especially the one on March 8 against Florida State. After UNC won the doubles point, four of six Tar Heel singles players dropped their first set. With the two teams knotted at two points a piece, 86th-ranked Robert Kelly put UNC back in front with a come-from-behind win on Court 5. Then, on Court 2, senior Brett Clark outlasted Michael Rinaldi after dropping the first set, securing the Tar Heels’ victory nearly four hours after first serve.
Both Clark and Hess-Olesen attributed UNC’s win to superior mental toughness, a characteristic that Clark believes the Tar Heels honed earlier in the season.