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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's tennis clinches return to Indoors in ITA Kick-Off weekend wins

UNC men's tennis player Robert Kelly prepares to receive a serve against Vanderbilt.

UNC men's tennis player Robert Kelly prepares to receive a serve against Vanderbilt.

With a shutout win over the Fighting Irish on Friday and a 4-1 Saturday victory against the Commodores, UNC clinched a third straight trip to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships — earning a chance to defend its national title.

“I think we had one of — if not the — toughest regionals, right up there as far as overall team talent,” said senior Ronnie Schneider, who sealed Saturday’s win with a straight-sets victory. “So I think this year, more than any year we’ve gone to Indoors, I think I’m the most happy about this one.”

The depth of this team will play a major role in the season going forward. Schneider, senior Jack Murray and junior Robert Kelly combined to win eight matches during the two-day kickoff event.

Despite their contribution, the success of the eight underclassmen will determine how far the Tar Heels can go, with head coach Sam Paul having three first-years in the starting lineup in two high-pressure matchups.

First-year William Blumberg is used to the big stage after a stellar juniors career, so it was no surprise when he came up with big wins in both matches.

Against Notre Dame, he and Kelly clinched the doubles point for UNC while playing the Fighting Irish’s No. 10 team. On Saturday, Blumberg played in the No. 2 position in singles and was the first off the court after defeating Danny Valent — ranked in the top 100 — in straight sets and securing the team’s second point.

Even though he’s still getting use to Carolina blue, Blumberg was happy to help his team secure the big wins.

“You always want to add for your team,” he said Saturday. “So getting a good early win, kind of setting the tone for the team, giving them a little confidence is good.”

Fellow first-year Simon Soendergaard made his collegiate debut after missing the first five matches of the season due to eligibility issues. He played in his first competitive match in 18 months on Friday, and while UNC clinched the win before he finished his match, he showed his talent — erasing a 3-0 deficit to win the first set.

Against Vanderbilt, he made his doubles debut and proved why he was a highly-regarded doubles player coming to UNC, serving out the set to clinch the doubles point.

With this much young talent on the team, the Tar Heels will undoubtedly face challenges this season. But they are excited to finally be competing in big-time matches.

“It’s a mix of young talent, and me, Jack and Ronnie,” Kelly said. “But we were all really excited. We woke up (Friday), and we were just like, ‘finally the season is here’ — not that the first matches aren’t important, but to actually be tested and have to compete.”

@CPhillips2020

sports@dailytarheel.com

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