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Doubles point helps North Carolina men's tennis defeat Ole Miss 6-1

Anu Kodali (left) returns a backhand volley at the net with doubles partner Ronnie Schneider (right) in Saturday's match against Ole Miss.
Anu Kodali (left) returns a backhand volley at the net with doubles partner Ronnie Schneider (right) in Saturday's match against Ole Miss.

The day before Ronnie Schneider competed in his last match under the roof of the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, the senior led a team meeting.

Schneider and senior teammate Jack Murray hadn’t lost a home team match indoors throughout their four years at UNC. Their last test came Saturday night, when the No. 5 North Carolina men’s tennis team hosted No. 23 Ole Miss. It was the team’s last match prior to the ITA Indoor Championships next weekend.

Supreme to everything mentioned in the meeting, the team talked about how securing the doubles point was critical to their Saturday night match.

“I thought it was probably the best meeting that we’ve had all year…” Schneider said. “One of the things we mentioned was regardless of how we do in doubles, we need to step up and get going right away in singles, because we know doubles have been their strong point throughout the year.”

North Carolina students and fans did their part Saturday night, providing a raucous environment. In the doubles portion of the match, where all three matches could only be seen on one side of the viewing area, the bleachers were completely full. Spectators who trickled in late resorted to using individual chairs as boosts, standing on them to get clearer vantage points.

No. 21 Robert Kelly, a junior, and first-year William Blumberg won 6-3 on court one. The Tar Heels needed one more court to seize the ever-so-crucial doubles point. Courts two and three — which experienced some last-second shifts due to a late scratch from Murray — each went to tiebreaks.

Sophomore Anu Kodali, Schneider’s doubles partner Saturday, learned that he was playing with his senior teammate Friday.

“It was kind of just like a day-before-the-match kind of thing,” Kodali said. “Me and Ronnie played a lot last year so it wasn’t like a big transition or anything.”

Schneider and Kodali’s strategy in the tiebreak centered around playing to Ole Miss’s first-year, Tim Sandkaulen, as well as returning the ball better. And as the tiebreak unfolded, Schneider and Kodali proved to be the tougher team.

The Rebels made several concentration errors in the tiebreak. Sandkaulen blasted a routine overhead into the net to put the Tar Heels up 4-2, and the Rebel tandem had a call overturned by the presiding official to give UNC a 7-6 point advantage and match point.

On the clinching point, Schneider served and immediately scurried to the net with his partner to apply pressure. Three North Carolina volleys later, the Rebels on court two made their final mistake of the match, sending the ball into the net tape. The Tar Heels won the tiebreak 8-6. 

Schneider threw his hands up and roared. Both Kodali and Schneider turned around to face the hyped crowd, almost as a thank you for giving them the edge throughout the match.

And just like that, North Carolina knew they had seized the most important point of the match. They rode the momentum the rest of the way, winning every first set besides one and eventually notching the 6-1 victory.

It was the Tar Heels’ second straight victory over a ranked opponent this season.

“This is the deepest team we’ve ever had,” said head coach Sam Paul, who is in his 24th season as head coach of UNC men’s tennis.

Murray and Schneider were among the last ones to hop off the courts Saturday. They took in the odor of sweat and the satisfying feeling of winning in front of a home crowd.

And when all was said and done, the two seniors exited the Cone-Kenfield tennis facility just as they entered four years earlier: undefeated.


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