Three games into the season, the Tar Heels are perfect on paper. But head coach Sam Paul says his team has plenty to work on.
“We did some good things and then I saw some things we just have to keep working on,” Paul said. “It’s so early. We haven’t even started school but three or four days (ago).”
Even though winning at this stage of the season is compulsory, nothing is set in stone. The team is continuing to get acclimated to playing collegiate tennis again, and Paul is adjusting the lineup.
North Carolina’s primary goal for the first part of the season remains, though, to win the ITA National Indoor Championships.
“Obviously, it’s a different team but, I think, same sort of expectation,” said senior Ronnie Schneider, who won his 100th career singles victory Monday.
Last year, North Carolina squeaked by in the qualifying rounds of the ITA National Indoor Championships, and the Tar Heels ended up winning it all after upsetting ACC foe Virginia.
“We have five people who haven’t gotten to experience a national championship, so (we’re) playing for them to experience that same feeling,” Schneider said, “which I think might be the most indescribable feeling you can have.”
The Tar Heels host Notre Dame — an opponent who defeated UNC last year — and the winner of Penn State and Vanderbilt in the ITA Kickoff next weekend. Winning those two matches would secure a berth in the ITA National Indoor Championships.
And while the expectations are the same, the team experienced significant personnel turnover over the summer.
Last season, the Tar Heels boasted eight upperclassmen out of 12 players on one of the best squads Paul has ever coached. This year, though, eight of the 12 players on the Tar Heel roster are first-years and sophomores, and only three seniors remain. Top-positioned singles player Brayden Schnur also left one year early to pursue a professional tennis career.
While the Tar Heels are a young team, they are mature in experience. They return players who filled key roles for the Elite Eight team a season ago in Schneider, senior Jack Murray and junior Robert Kelly.
Paul hesitated to agree that the team was young, as they have plenty of experience playing tennis.
Sophomore Blaine Boyden — who won 6-2, 6-3 in singles — agreed the team is ready for the season.
“We all have a common goal, and when we all have that common goal, I feel like we bond together and we work hard,” he said. “So obviously, there are some younger guys, but we have been playing tennis all our lives.”
“It doesn’t really feel like a young team.”