Coming off of a run to the Final Four of last year’s NCAA Tournament, the No. 4 North Carolina men’s tennis team is relying on senior leadership and strong doubles play to guide it to similar success early this season.
The Tar Heels topped Elon 4-0 on Saturday, led in large part by the success of their upperclassmen. The match started off with UNC taking the doubles point by way of victories from the No. 7 team of senior Simon Soendergaard and junior Mac Kiger and, later, the pairing of senior William Blumberg and sophomore Brian Cernoch.
That opening point would give North Carolina a decisive early advantage and a strong sense of momentum going into singles play.
“The doubles point is always crucial, it's important for us to come out as fast as we can,” Soendergaard said. “So far, we’ve been really good at just being on them from the beginning and really showing that they have to play good tennis to beat us.”
Following doubles play, the Tar Heels quickly sunk the Phoenixes' hopes of a comeback, with UNC winning three matches to seal a 4-0 North Carolina victory behind wins from Cernoch, Blumberg and Kiger in their respective matches.
Although they didn't notch wins individually after the matches went unfinished, both Soendergaard and Josh Peck, who has ascended to No. 82 nationally in his senior season, had their opponents on the ropes following first-set victories and strong leads going into the back end of their matches.
The senior class of Peck, Soendergaard, Blumberg and Ladd Harrison has seen a consistent level of success in the UNC program over the last four years, either on the court during matches or in a mentoring role at practice, and the group is playing a key role in leading the team to continued success so far this year.
“I think everyone does a good job of playing in their role,” Peck said. “As a senior, I’ve definitely learned over the last three years what it means to play for Carolina tennis, and I think we do a good job of teaching the younger guys how to do that.”
After graduating only one member of last year’s Final Four team, this season’s seniors have plenty of experience in leadership roles on a winning team. In order to keep winning this season, the North Carolina men's tennis team is aware that its senior class will have to continue to perform at the level of last season.
When asked about the seniors, head coach Sam Paul shook his head and gave a short answer.
“What a great class.”
In the first three matches of 2020, the Tar Heels have outscored their opponents 18-0 on the way to an undefeated start. While staying optimistic, the Tar Heels still acknowledge the work that is left to be done to maintain a high level of success and finish strong. After all, the team's four seniors have definitely been in this position before.
“We have a lot of potential, definitely a lot of talent on the team, but it comes from hard work.” Peck said. “There are definitely some good teams out there, so we’re going to have to continue to play our best whenever we’re out on the court and in practice.”
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