For senior Hayley Carter, the No. 4 North Carolina women's tennis team's 4-3 loss to No. 10 Georgia Tech was more than just an opportunity to extend winning streaks.
On Jan. 6, her father had surgery to remove masses from his pancreas, and spent the next three months in and out of the hospital. He unfortunately developed a severe infection, and a week before the Tar Heels' match with the Yellow Jackets, he passed away.
His funeral was the Wednesday before the match, and her tennis family drove to Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee to support their teammate in her time of need. With that act of kindness and her father on her mind, Carter was nothing but grateful after her team’s tight loss.
“I told them I would remember it for the rest of my life, and I mean it,” she said. “I know I should be upset about this loss right now, but all I can think about is how much they mean to me, and how thankful I am for that.”
With No. 2 Carter up 4-1 in the first set of her match with No. 46 Rasheeda McAdoo, she injured a muscle in her leg. Her injury was severe enough that head coach Brian Kalbas asked her if she wanted to quit the match, but Carter refused. She said that she was in excruciating pain, but there was no way she was retiring. Carter hobbled back onto the court, and proceeded to win the match in straight sets.
“I knew she was going to win,” said Kalbas. “I don’t care if she’s on one leg, and she’s playing with one arm. If she tells me she’s going to win the match, she’s going to win.”
The way Carter was battling did not go unnoticed by sophomore Jessie Aney, who won a close match in straight sets just two courts over.
"I was emotional during my match,” she said. “That was a tough player I was playing today, and I didn’t have a ton of confidence going in, and just seeing Hayley out there fighting, it just made me want to fight for her and her father.”
The loss ended the run of 50 straight matches the team had won at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center and was UNC's first regular-season ACC loss since April 2014. But Carter says given how the team has struggled in the last few weeks with injuries and sickness, this loss will actually be a momentum builder for the team. No matter what struggles the team has the rest of the season, she will face them with her father on her mind.
“I saw him fight for three months,” she said. “That’s why I think I was able to get through today. Just wanting to play for him, and make him proud still, is so important to me.”
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