As time soon told, though, a championship in 2016 wasn’t the end. In the next two years, the Tar Heels rose up and won conference titles in different ways. Head coach Brian Kalbas said each of those three years (2016-18) fielded different teams, even though they achieved similar success.
And it was never as easy as it seemed.
That brings us to this season. To 2019. From the outset, it was clear that none of this program's previous success was guaranteed. Seniors had to be shifted down in the playing rotation. The top of the lineup wasn’t as consistent as it had been in years past.
But the team’s talent and experience pushed them to clinch the top seed come ACC tournament time.
“We didn’t really know what we had as a team, as far as identity and DNA that we had to form,” Kalbas said. “Every team’s different, every year is different, and it might seem like they’re similar, but this team has a very special nature about themselves.”
And then, finally, came the day of this moment itself — the day where this story is put on hold for now. On Sunday, the Tar Heels competed in their fourth straight ACC Championship game against Duke, a team they’d beaten twice already this season.
The Tar Heels earned the match’s doubles point like they have all season, extending their team's perfect doubles record.
In singles, sophomore Alle Sanford notched the first point for the Tar Heels from Court 6, winning her match, 6-3, 6-2. But that’s as close to an easy win that came for North Carolina all afternoon.
Aney lost on Court 5, 7-5, 6-1. Sara Daavettila won her first set but lost the second without winning a game. Other matches were too close for comfort.
Junior Makenna Jones had won her first set on Court 1, but her leads always felt tenuous on Sunday. In the second set, she’d seen her 5-1 lead evaporate in four games. With the set score at 5-5 — on the deuce point — her opponent’s shot hit the tape and fell. It proved to be the turning point. Jones would go on to win the set and the match, 3-1 UNC.
By then, all eyes had shifted to Court 4, where the only Tar Heel first-year in Sunday’s lineup had a late lead in the second set. Cameron Morra had pushed the margin to 5-3, finding a groove baseline-rallying with her two-handed swing for both her forehand and her backhand.
And then, like she’d been all season, her consistency prevailed. On what would become the final point of the tournament, her opponent’s forehand sailed deep.
Swarming and screaming ensued, a celebration these Tar Heels are familiar with. Hugs were given. Stiff hats were broken in.
After the official trophy ceremony was over, the players took a cardboard sign that read “ACC Champions” and wanted to include it in their team picture: “They put this in front last year,” one player said. It was as if the championship the team had clinched five minutes ago was already old news — as if a prophecy had already been told, and the players were just living it out.
Kalbas, meanwhile, was trying to describe what this win meant to him — and where this four-year stretch of success all started. He smiled.
“There are a lot of different stories,” he said, trying to avoid admitting on one singular beginning.
And that's because, probably, he's not ready for this story to end.
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