Doubles partners and seniors Maggie Kane and Cassandra Vazquez swayed side by side, crouched down and leaned forward in preparation for the battle to come.
On Court Two, first-year Alle Sanford and sophomore Makenna Jones cruised past their Pittsburgh opponents with a 6-2 victory, but the North Carolina women's tennis team ran into trouble on Court One.
The No. 1 doubles team of junior Jessie Aney and sophomore Alexa Graham fell 6-2, leaving the senior duo under pressure.
Coming back from a deficit, Kane and Vazquez were tied 4-4. No. 1 UNC and Pittsburgh teammates lined up on Court Two to cheer on their respective teammates. During play, it was silent. The crowd quickly hushed as the duo pushed to 5-4. Cheers ensued, finding any way to support two of UNC’s seniors.
Silence fell across Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center again, but it didn’t last long. With one final volley, the dynamic duo clinched Sunday's doubles point — and ended their regular season careers with a doubles win.
“It was a sense of relief,” Kane said. “I was really nervous and wanted to do well for the team but [it was] also just really exciting. I was trying to hold in my emotions, even beforehand.”
North Carolina cruised to a 6-1 victory against Pittsburgh on Senior Day Sunday, when the team honored their three team captains: Kane, Vazquez and Marika Akkerman.
“They did decorations in the lockers, and we got to see our pictures everywhere," Kane said. "I was just trying to hold it in, and after the match, I was able to let it out.”
Head coach Brian Kalbas said the seniors have contributed so much to the team's identity.
“For work ethic and attitude, those are two things as a coach you can’t really improve," Kalbas said. "You either have it as an asset, or you don’t.”
The trio is unlike any other class that has come through the UNC women’s tennis program. They have been a part of the most historic four-year stretch in program history. Over the past four seasons, the program has won two ITA National Indoor Championships, two ACC Championships and three ACC regular season titles. In the same stretch, North Carolina has compiled an 117-11 overall dual match record and a whopping 53-3 mark against ACC.
“You’re only as good or as bad as your weakest point and weakest person,” Kalbas said. “Those three add so much value to our team.”
For the trio, Senior Day meant more than a final regular season match. Kane grew up watching the program, and being a long-time fan didn’t help her nerves. While battling the anxious emotions, the senior was able to achieve the dream she’s held dear to her heart since she was a little girl.
“(The win) meant so much,” Kane said. “It’s been my dream to play for UNC for as long as I can remember. I used to come out to all the matches when I was little so just being able to be out there on my Senior Day and get a win for the team was really exciting.”
Kane and Vazquez have played together throughout the season. Despite taking a back-row seat while big-name athletes Hayley Carter and Jamie Loeb dominated the court, the seniors have found other ways to shine through personal growth on and off the court.
Kane has become more vocal. Over the last few years, she was awarded the Tar Heel Leader of Distinction Award and Iron Ram Award because of her dedication and work ethic.
Vazquez has stepped up when needed because of her competitive spirit. During her first year, "the loyal best friend" jumped in the lineup as the team veterans were plagued with injuries, clinching two key matches.
And Akkerman, who technically has one more year of eligibility after this season, had her own struggles with a foot injury. After coming off of a high sophomore season, a preseason foot injury placed her on the sidelines for 2016-17. Her recovery was just as rough, as each step of the way had a bump in the road — which was hard for the woman with a larger than life personality.
After overcoming the initial injury, small injuries continued to plague her recovery process and tried to dampen her spirits along the way.
However, on Sunday afternoon, you wouldn’t have been able to tell.
The Tar Heels were up 3-0. Akkerman had a rough go during the first set, slipping by with a 6-4 win. The redshirt junior quickly refocused. Her emotions were high as she drew back her arm to serve.
Four hits later, Akkerman slowly crouched to her knees screaming and swept her arm up with a fist pump. Her singles win had clinched the match with a 6-0 second-set victory of her own, ending her regular season at home on a high note. It meant everything to her.
“My four years here have been incredible,” Akkerman said. “Last year I didn’t get to play at all because of an injury so to be back on the court this year has been amazing. To have a good day on Senior Day was even better.”
Despite not being the big names on the roster, the trio has left their mark on this team, this program and this University. Kalbas left them with this one piece of advice before they head off on their next journey.
“Always cherish the moments they’ve had together," he said. "They’re always going to be family, and they are always welcome back.”