The 2018 edition of the Tar Heels have the potential to do so. They will begin the season as the fifth-ranked team in the country.
Breakout first-year Alle Sanford is the ninth-ranked player in the country and will join nationally-ranked returners Makenna Jones, Jessie Aney, Sara Daavettila and Chloe Ouellet-Pizer.
Sanford seems poised to take over the top spot from Carter. Though only a first-year, the Westerville, Ohio native has already proved herself against top national competition. In September, she won the Oracle ITA Masters. In the finals, she beat defending champion Ena Shibahara from UCLA.
In November, Sanford advanced to the quarterfinals of the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships, notching three top-40 wins along the way before eventually falling to No. 3 Andrea Lazaro of Florida International.
Competing against such a high level of competition will help prepare Sanford for everyday life in the ACC, which boasts three teams ranked in the top 10. But success in dual team tennis requires more than one standout performer. The question for the Tar Heels will be if the rest of their lineup is able to perform at a high level.
Aney, who now has two years of experience under her belt and played mostly number three for the Tar Heels last season, is ranked No. 18 in the nation in singles.
Aney has seen mixed success in singles in the fall season, highlighted by a pair of wins in the ITA Grass Court Invitational in September. But her value is not limited to singles. Aney also forms one half of the No. 18 doubles team in the nation. She and Alexa Graham are UNC’s highest ranked pair.
Aney and Graham will have to prove that they deserve that ranking as the dual team season begins, as they have struggled in the fall. They failed to advance past the first round in the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships, and lost in the second round of the ITA All-American Championships.
Jones, a Greenville, South Carolina native, rounds out a trio of Tar Heels ranked inside the top 20. No other team in the nation has as many ranked within the top 20.
The Tar Heels compete this weekend at the Freeman Memorial Championship in Las Vegas, and the dual team season kicks off on Jan. 20 against William & Mary. A tough non-conference schedule includes matchups against No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 10 Michigan.
In order for North Carolina to continue the program’s recent success — and make up for the loss of legend Hayley Carter — an experienced nucleus of Aney, Jones and Daavettila will need to step up and support the budding first-year star in Sanford.