A trip to Rome, Georgia, didn't end how the No. 12 North Carolina men's tennis team hoped it would.
UNC lost, 4-3, to No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, in the semifinals of the ACC tournament a day after beating No. 32 Florida State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals at the Rome Tennis Center.
The Cavaliers (27-1) have been a thorn in the side of the Tar Heels (24-4) this season, with Virginia winning all three matchups, the last two by 4-3 scores. This was also the fifth straight season that UNC has been knocked out of the conference tournament by its rival.
Much like in its previous loss to Virginia, there are several positives for the team to take away from Saturday and build on before the NCAA Tournament starts in two weeks.
After losing the doubles point to start the match, first-year William Blumberg tied the score at one all, with a straight-sets win over No. 15 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. That improved his singles record against conference opponents this season to 13-0 and was his ninth victory over a ranked opponent.
Senior Ronnie Schneider continued his consistent play at the top of the lineup with another victory, and first-year Simon Soendergaard recorded his second win of the season over a ranked opponent to tie the score at three. Junior Robert Kelly battled back from a one-set deficit against No. 46 Collin Altamirano before ultimately dropping the deciding set 6-4.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” head coach Sam Paul said. “They gave their heart and soul, and just came up a little short today. I wouldn’t want to have any other group of guys.”
The team's only other loss this season came on the road against No. 1 Wake Forest in a tightly contested 4-3 defeat. Having all four of its losses coming against two top-three opponents — three of which were decided by one point — could be frustrating for a team that has the talent to compete with any program in the country. But the Tar Heels are taking a positive approach to the close losses heading into the tournament.
“We’ve played against the best every day,” Blumberg said. “And we’re right there with them. We’ve had tough losses to both teams. I think every team in the country knows that we’re coming and we’re ready to roll.”
UNC currently sits at No. 12 in the ITA rankings, which determines the seeding for the NCAA Tournament, with only one more update to be released before the final tournament of the season begins. This ranking seems low for a team that only has four losses, all to top-three opponents, and 13 victories over teams ranked inside the ITA top 50. The team uses what it consider to be a slight by the ITA as motivation for the rest of its season.
“We know how good we are,” Schneider said. “We just have to play up to that level. If we’re really meant to be in the top five like I know we are, it’ll show come the NCAA tournament. They’ve done a great job with kind of screwing us with the rankings, and we look for revenge for it."
"We know we don’t have to play out of our minds to win any match, or the NCAA tournament. We just have to play within ourselves, and if we do that, we give ourselves a great chance to win it all.”
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