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The Daily Tar Heel

Aney and Sanford lead UNC women's tennis past NC State, 4-1

Women's tennis N.C. State

The North Carolina women's tennis team huddles before its match against N.C. State on Feb. 21 at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center.

The No. 1 North Carolina women’s tennis team (12-0, 1-0 ACC) has played four top-10 teams in 12 games this season. It beat every single one of them.

After facing tough squads, including No. 2 Pepperdine and No. 3 Ole Miss, UNC faces yet another top-10 opponent on Sunday: No. 7 Vanderbilt. With such a difficult schedule, one might expect the physical and mental challenge to be too daunting for UNC. However, the team doesn’t see it as that — it sees it as motivation to keep winning.

“We like challenges," junior Jessie Aney said. "I think that’s something that makes us a good team. We like playing those top-10 teams. We like to be pushed.”

The team played its first outdoor match of the season on Wednesday. UNC was off to a slow start against rival N.C. State, and it was obvious that the Tar Heels weren’t used to playing outside.

“This was a good test for us," head coach Brian Kalbas said. "We just have to get used to playing more outside. I would’ve loved to have played better. I think we were frustrated sometimes because the points were not as easy as they normally are.”

In its first conference match, UNC trailed early on in all three doubles matches. The team was soon able to shift its momentum in its favor as No. 9 Aney and Alexa Graham defeated their opponent, 6-4. No. 20 Sara Daavettila and Alle Sanford then clinched the opening point, winning 6-3 in their doubles match.

And in singles, excluding No. 15 Makenna Jones, who decidedly defeated her opponent, 6-0 in both sets, the matches were hard-fought. No. 93 Graham won UNC its third point of the day, defeating her opponent, 6-2, 6-3. No. 32 Aney clinched the 4-1 win over N.C. State when she defeated her opponent, 6-3, 6-3.

The Wolfpack's only point of the day came when No. 8 Sanford lost in singles. The first-year went down 3-0 in her first set and seemed to panic. She tried to calm down and get into a rhythm, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t able to recover from that early deficit and lost, 6-4, 6-3.

“She’s a freshman playing number one,"  Kalbas said. "She’s a target now. Alle needs to understand that and channel herself in a more positive way. She’s putting a lot of pressure on herself."

UNC has already been crowned ITA Indoor Champions this season for the third time in program history. The Tar Heels finished as runner-ups in both 2016 and 2017, but this year's squad had the depth it took to get over the hump and win the title.

“We have players in every position that’s going to give us an opportunity to win,” Kalbas said. “It’s not the same people winning matches. It’s different people coming through for us.”

That chemistry carries over to their personal lives, too. The players have a close connection that extends off the court.

“We just kind of have fun out there on the court and off the court, and I think that’s really important for a team,” Aney said. “We’ve shown that we can still have a really focused attitude when we’re playing points and then have fun other times.”

Kalbas cites the team’s chemistry as a big factor in its success, and he’s confident that the support each player shows for one another will allow the team to continue improving as the season progresses.

“It’s such a competitive group," Kalbas said. "Everybody’s pushing the player in front of them. It’s the easiest group I’ve had to coach. They really enjoy being around each other.”

@DTHSports |

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