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The Daily Tar Heel

Brayden Schnur, Ronnie Schneider rally to send Tar Heels to Elite Eight

A strong finish of back-to-back singles victories secured the North Carolina men's tennis team a spot in Saturday’s NCAA Elite Eight match against Texas Christian University, knocking No. 4 Illinois out of the tournament. 

A singles loss late in the day positioned the Tar Heels behind 3-2, placing the potential Elite Eight advancement in the hands of sophomores Ronnie Schneider and Brayden Schnur. 

“We have been in some tough spots all year long, but our kids fight,” Coach Sam Paul said. “We are sort of used to this.” 

And the two men did just that, bringing their team to a 4-3 victory. 

“There were a lot of momentum switches — we were up, then Illinois was up, then we were up, then Illinois was up,” Schnur said. “Close to the end Jack (Murray) was down, but Ronnie and I were both at 5-2, so I felt pretty confident in both of our abilities to close out the match.” 

In January, the Tar Heels fell to the Illini 4-3. Thursday, Schnur said a large part of the different outcome was Schneider’s appearance. 

“Earlier in the season we didn’t have Ronnie in our lineup because he was injured,” Schnur said. “That was a huge benefit for our team today.”

And Schneider said that his physical health and hard work over the course of the year gave him confidence and motivation to finish his final match of he day.

“I was really happy with my fitness and the lead up to the finish,” Schneider said. “How hard I trained, I think, gave me the peace of mind that I could go out and play those three points as hard as I can.”

The whole team is healthy and strong, Schneider said, allowing the men to play the best tennis they’ve played all season. And Paul agrees.

“We are starting to get healthy again, and if you look at our senior, Esben (Hess-Olesen), it is his second singles match since February,” Paul said. “Again he got off quick and was able to give us some momentum.” 

The Tar Heels' outstanding performance during doubles competition and strong singles finish, Schneider said, exposes the high level of athleticism and competitiveness the team has been working toward all season. And, Paul said, he is thrilled but not surprised by the impressive win.

“Illinois has a great team, and we knew that coming in,” Paul said. “But I am just so proud of my team.”

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