But in certain moments — like when a baseball manager willingly gets ejected from a game, for example, or when Roy Williams yanks his blazer off his back and throws it behind his team’s bench — a coach seizes the moment with rage.
It’s a way to protect players. To show engagement.
And sometimes, as was proven in North Carolina’s (20-1, 8-0 ACC) 4-3 win over Miami on Sunday morning, it can be the sequence that tips the momentum of a match.
“I mean it really pumps you up,” said Sara Daavettila, who won both her singles and doubles matches on Sunday. “Like for Alexa, after that happened, she got really energetic, and like you saw, she just used his energy and played better.”
The rest of Graham’s singles match would prove hers to win — although it didn’t come without a fight. After dropping the game where the umpire overruled her call, Graham would lose the next game, too.
“She got up 5-2 in the first set, playing really aggressive, and then when she needed to, she stepped up in the 5-4 game,” Kalbas said. “And 4-1 (in the second), same thing. Very aggressive and then kind of backed off.”
But by then — with Graham trailing in the second set, 6-5 — all eyes were on singles courts one and two. After winning the doubles point, the Tar Heels had a fight in each of their six singles matches.
Daavettila finished her match first, turning in the second match point for the Tar Heels in her 6-2, 6-1 win. No. 25 first-year Cameron Morra turned in the next Tar Heel point, winning 6-1, 6-3. But with losses on courts five and six — with two match points up for grabs, and No. 5 junior Makenna Jones on court one trailing — Graham’s match seemed to dictate her team's fate on Sunday afternoon.
“She’s got such a competitive gear that when she knows the match is relying on her, she has an incredible ability to stay focused and stay aggressive,” Kalbas said of Graham. “The confidence she has when the pressure is on is amazing.”
And Graham delivered. She held serve to tie the set score at 6-6, and she carried that momentum through the second-set tiebreak.
Graham won 6-4, 7-6 (7) — and admitted to benefitting from the energy around her, from the crowd and from her typically cool-headed coach.
“I think that’s the beauty of playing at home, that most of the people are going to be on your side,” Graham said. “And then when they get excited, when you win a point, it makes you even more excited.”
After the match, with players signing autographs on foldable tables near where the Tar Heels had just won their 20th match of the season, Kalbas was teased by his team.
Hayley Carter, a part-time assistant coach who played for Kalbas during 2013-17, led the fun. She told stories of other times Kalbas has gotten animated on-court; most notably, when he's thrown his hat.
“I was talking to Hayley afterward,” Daavettila said, laughing. “And she was like, ‘I really thought it was going to happen.’”
Kalbas laughed when asked why his hat stayed on his head: “The girls were wondering about that...”
On Sunday afternoon, the Tar Heels earned a season-defining win late in the season.
And they did it, figuratively-speaking, with help from their coach losing his head — and not his hat.
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