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In close 4-3 loss, No. 1 UNC women's tennis drops its first ACC match against Georgia Tech

For the second year in a row, the No. 6 Georgia Tech women’s tennis team came into the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center and downed No. 1 North Carolina. 

Georgia Tech defeated UNC 4-3 in Chapel Hill last April, ending a 50-match home win streak for the Tar Heels. And this year’s loss gave UNC its first ACC loss of the season.

“They were full strength today,” head coach Brian Kalbas said. “We knew what they were capable of doing, and they beat us here last year. We allowed them to play their game to their strengths. It was more them winning it than us losing it.”

In a highly anticipated doubles match, the face-off between No. 2 duo Jessie Aney and Alexa Graham against No. 1 Paige Hourigan and Kenya Jones lived up to the hype. 

Aney and Graham jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, and Hourigan and Jones couldn’t get back into the match. Aney and Graham downed the No. 1 pair, 6-2. 

“Jessie and I were really looking forward to the match all week,” Graham said. “We knew it was gonna be a big one, and we came out motivated. We laugh a lot on the court, and it keeps it light and easy. We’re never really stressing or anything.”

Kalbas isn’t surprised that the pair has been so successful this season. He believes it all comes down to their chemistry and toughness. 

“They have a lot of fun together,” Kalbas said. “Their styles match up. Alexa is really good at setting Jessie up, and Jessie has a lot of free reign when Alexa is serving well.” 

Even with the excitement coming off of Aney and Graham’s win, UNC wasn’t able to win the critical doubles point. Both pairs of Marika Akkerman and Alle Sanford, Sara Daavettila and Makenna Jones were defeated 6-4, and the Yellow Jackets won the first point of the match. 

“It’s disappointing not to be able to pull it out,” Jones said. “I knew (Aney and Graham) were doing awesome up there. I’m so happy for them, and it really helps the team.”

The Yellow Jackets clinched the next point when No. 22 Paige Hourigan defeated No. 20 Sanford, 6-3, 6-2. 

As a first-year playing at Court One, Sanford has struggled in singles this season, losing her last nine matches entering Saturday. Sanford was once ranked as high as sixth in the nation but has since fallen to No. 20. 

“Alle’s playing careless at times,” Kalbas said. “She’s trying to put too much pressure on herself. She’s not playing free. Everybody on the team including Alle believes that she’s gonna get there. It’s just a matter of when.” 

The Yellow Jackets took the next two singles matches to secure the victory over the Tar Heels. No. 47 Aney was defeated 6-2, 6-4 and No. 27 Daavettila went down 6-3, 6-3 in two sets. 

No. 18 Jones, Graham and Chloe Ouellet-Pizer each won their matches to bring the score to 4-3. It was the second time all season that the Tar Heels had lost the doubles point, and it proved critical against Georgia Tech.

“We had a chance to win the doubles point, and when you don’t win the doubles point, you really can’t afford to give away any points,” Kalbas said. “After winning the doubles point, they played very free.” 

UNC’s most consistent player proved herself again on Saturday. Graham defeated her Georgia Tech opponent 7-5, 6-2 and, after winning against Virginia Tech on Sunday, is 18-0 in singles matches on the year.

"I feel like I haven’t been putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Graham said. “I’ve been staying calm on the court and really just enjoying it, and I’ve been successful in doing that.”

The hard work Graham put in during the offseason and at practice each day has allowed her to achieve this kind of success.

“She’s come in every single day working on her serve, working on her turns and working on coming forward,” Kalbas said. “She’s doing a really good job of taking somebody’s punches and then punching back and finishing.”

In the past, several of UNC’s best wins have come off of losses, and the team is not too worried about this one. The Tar Heels believe the tough matches make them stronger. 

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“We’re obviously disappointed, but we know we’re getting their best shot,” Jones said. “We’re gonna have to be strong for the end of the season, so I think it’s good preparation. We have a lot better tennis to play.”


@DTHSports |