DURHAM, N.C. — Blaine Boyden stood in the middle of his teammates, who were huddled around him.
His voice carried throughout Duke's indoor tennis courts. A smile spread across each North Carolina men’s tennis player's face at Boyden’s encouraging words. It was finally their time.
Despite starting an hour late and playing indoors in Durham rather outside in Cary, No. 3 seed UNC beat No. 11 seed Louisville, who beat No. 6 seed Georgia Tech, 4-3, less than 24 hours earlier. It was the second time the Tar Heels (18-5,) had beaten the Cardinals in less than a week. Friday’s 4-0 victory sent the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship semifinals, where they will play No. 2 seed UVA on Saturday morning.
“First of all, Louisville had a great win yesterday so I knew they would be coming out with a lot of energy,” head coach Sam Paul said. “Proud of our guys for rising to the challenge.”
As thunderstorms and straight-line winds tore through the Triangle, UNC faced an atypical afternoon on Friday. The quarterfinals were forced indoors due to the weather; the match between No. 4 seed N.C. State and No. 5 seed Miami lasted over four hours, pushing UNC’s match back an hour. The Tar Heels were also missing their star player, junior William Blumberg, who was sidelined due to injury.
This gap in the lineup opened up an opportunity for junior Josh Peck to step into the doubles lineup for the fifth time this season, playing alongside Boyden for the second time in less than a week.
“We’ve played in practice a bunch, but obviously, it’s new playing in a match,” Boyden said. “There’s some beginning jitters, but I thought we mesh pretty well. We had some fun out there, which is important.”
Court 3 ended almost as quickly as it started. Duo junior Simon Soendergaard and sophomore Mac Kiger gave UNC an early lead with a 6-2 victory. However, Peck and Boyden battled on Court 2 and doubles team first-year Brian Cernoch and sophomore Benjamin Sigouin played on Court 1. Both courts broke 6-5 within minutes of each other, but it was the duo of Peck and Boyden that clinched the doubles point for UNC.
Quick thinking, trick shots and hard volleys helped UNC outsmart the Cardinals. Several Tar Heels hit the ball with their back to the net and Louisville struggled to counter the North Carolina volleys.
Singles was more of a battle for the Tar Heels. Cernoch was the first to head into the second set after winning 6-2 on a 40-40 point. Boyden closely followed with a 6-2 victory of his own. UNC won the first set of singles on every court except for Court 5, where Soendergaard fell, 6-4.
The second set went a little quicker than the first, but the afternoon held more surprises for the Tar Heels. Courts 1, 2, 4 and 6 all led and were either serving or receiving while being ahead on a 40-point.
It could’ve been anybody’s game.
“You can kind of sense everyone, all of the energy that we’re bringing to the table,” Boyden said. “Everyone’s trying to get to that finish line, but we use it well.”
It all happened almost simultaneously. Boyden finished first on a 40-40 point, winning 6-3. Next to him, Kiger finished a few seconds later with a 6-4, 6-3 victory of his own. As Sigouin served on Court 1, Peck won 6-3, 6-1 on Court 2.
After the match, Sigouin joked with Kiger about how quickly he finished. Although the Tar Heels try to not pay attention to the scoreboard, it proved to be a little difficult given the circumstances.
“I try not to look at the scoreboard as much as possible, but sometimes it gets hard,” Peck said. “I saw we took a decent amount of first sets and some guys were struggling a little bit so I really wanted to get it done as fast as I could on my court.”
The Tar Heels face a turnaround time of 19 hours until Saturday morning’s semifinal match against UVA, a team UNC lost to by a score of 4-2 a little over a week ago.
“Looking forward to it,” Paul said. “It’s what we train for.”
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