It started in pregame warm-ups.
Grunt after grunt, stride after stride, senior Ronnie Schneider was ready to face both Boston College and Notre Dame over the holiday weekend.
But this weekend was special. Sunday’s 6-1 win over the Fighting Irish came on senior day for the North Carolina men's tennis team — and Schneider’s home career at UNC was coming to an end.
“Ronnie has always been a leader,” head coach Sam Paul said. “Since day one, Ronnie’s work ethic and desire to compete have always set an example.”
Perhaps it was best shown in UNC's 7-0 win over the Eagles on Friday, when Schneider struggled early in the first set of his singles match. The senior was down 2-1 in the first set at Court 1. All eyes were on him.
But Schneider, who had over 150 matches under his belt, used his experience to maintain composure. He took a seat on the empty North Carolina bench, drank some water and wiped the sweat from his face — revealing a look of passion and determination that the senior from Bloomington, Ind., showed all year long.
He was going to win.
“Going down a break, 2-1, in the first set was no reason to panic,” Schneider said. “I just had to believe in my game.”
Schneider won 11 of his next 12 games — including five straight after the early deficit — to beat his singles opponent, 6-2, 6-1. Each powerful serve and lively grunt showed the UNC crowd how far the senior had come. His serve, for one, had vastly improved since the start of his senior year.
With an undersized 5-foot-9 frame, Schneider worked relentlessly the past month to improve his serve power and accuracy. Working on mechanics to help maintain his consistency, he honed a serve that propelled his comeback victory Friday afternoon.
“As I make strides professionally after I graduate, my serve needs to continue to get better,” Schneider said. “But I do think my serve has gotten a lot better in the past few weeks.”
Though the serve itself showed Schneider’s effort in each play, its development embodied the senior’s work ethic and passion.
But the win on senior day showed Schneider’s impact both on and off the court.
After closing out a definitive doubles match, 6-1, Schneider settled into a competitive singles match against Notre Dame’s Josh Hagar, who was ranked No. 59 in single play.
Following early struggles in the first set, the rest of the Tar Heels cheered on their teammate on Court 1. After Schneider lost the the first set, each voice of encouragement fueled his second-set comeback.
But it was Schneider's own energy that inspired him in the third set. In the deciding tiebreaker, Schneider fought his way to a 10-6 victory to win the match. After his victory, Schneider fell to the ground, kissed the court and immediately got up to shake hands with his opponent — encompassing Schneider’s love for tennis and respect for his fellow athlete.
“Kissing the court was my way of saying thank you to this place for creating the best four years of my life” Schneider said.
“This place has meant so much to me … It’s very emotional coming toward the end.”
Schneider’s impact on the North Carolina program is unmistakable — something his teammates noted after Sunday's match.
“I don’t know if I would be here without Ronnie,” fellow senior Jack Murray said. “He’s been a massive part of my Carolina experience and I’ve learned so much from him. He’s been my best friend since being here.”
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