As the reigning national champions and winners of 140 consecutive games against ACC opponents, the Cavaliers represented a menacing foe for the Tar Heels.
And after dropping the doubles point and four opening sets in singles play, it seemed UVa.’s dominance would continue.
But behind three third-set wins, UNC shocked the Cavaliers on Monday with a 4-2 win in Charlottesville, Va.
“If you had told me a few months ago that we would have been here celebrating the ITA Championship, I would have thought you were crazy,” said junior Ronnie Schneider.
In order to rebound from an early 2-0 deficit, the Tar Heels relied on the strength of their singles play.
First-year Anu Kodali started UNC’s comeback bid by rolling to 6-2 wins in both sets.
Juniors Brayden Schnur and Schneider each dropped their first set, but they came back to win their final two to give the Tar Heels a 3-2 edge.
The duo battled intensely with Ryan Shane and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, respectively, throughout the third sets, coming away with tie-breaking wins, as Schnur defeated Shane 7-6 (4) and Schneider defeated Kwiatkowski 7-6 (5).
Within one point of securing the win, the title came down to junior Jack Murray.
Murray won the opening set, but senior Mac Styslinger shut out Murray in the second. But once again, the Tar Heels prevailed in a third-set tiebreaker, as Murray beat Styslinger 7-5 to clinch UNC’s first-ever ITA National Indoor Team Championship.
“This is a complete team win,” Murray said. “We took a hit in the doubles, but we did a great job regrouping.”
Although Schneider contributed to the team’s deficit — falling 6-3 in his doubles match — he said he and the rest of the team weren’t intimidated, even when they went down in singles.
“Everybody on the team believed in what we were doing, and everyone believed in what the coaches were telling us,” Schneider said. “Virginia had won 140 consecutive ACC games, which was a crazy streak, but we didn’t think about it, even though Virginia had a ton of people out for the matches.”
Coach Sam Paul was proud of his team, but remained irked by the Tar Heels’ initial performance.
“We need to play a lot better in doubles,” Paul said. “We need to take responsibility for the losses this weekend, and we’ll need to work on the improvements when we get back to Chapel Hill.”
Despite a slow start, the many mistakes and the imperfect performance, the Tar Heels will return to Chapel Hill with a championship trophy no UNC team has ever brought back before.