With the 2020 spring season ending prematurely due to the spread of COVID-19, figuring out the future of the North Carolina men’s tennis team is complicated.
North Carolina finished the shortened season with a 12-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking, looking primed to compete for the program's first outdoor national championship. ACC play had just begun and the Tar Heels came out of the gates hot with wins over Virginia Tech and N.C. State. UNC looked to be taking the momentum of a runner-up finish in the ITA Indoor Championship into the spring season.
Despite the abrupt ending of the 2020 campaign, four players on the team were given All-America honors, more than any other men's team. Two of them were seniors William Blumberg and Simon Soendergaard, while the others were sophomore Brian Cernoch and junior Mac Kiger. Blumberg was the only Tar Heel to earn the honor for singles, while all four players were named as All-Americas on their respective doubles teams.
Typically, one would look into the next season and evaluate how UNC can adjust with the loss of key seniors. This year, it won’t be that simple.
The outlook of the team will depend largely on what UNC’s Department of Athletics decides to do with the question of eligibility for spring athletes. Athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in March that he wanted an extra year of eligibility to be provided for spring athletes. If players do come back, the Tar Heels will have a stacked roster returning and their season could look similar to the beginning of the 2020 campaign. If this is the case, the Tar Heels could be at the forefront of title contention once again.
The NCAA announced in late March that it would grant spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility, but the decision from this point forward will sit on the shoulders of UNC and its returning seniors.
If the extra year is granted from UNC and the seniors opt not to take it, North Carolina would be left to figure out who will step in and accommodate for the loss of key members from one of its most talented teams in recent memory. Blumberg and Soendergaard were on different doubles teams, so UNC would have to find players who have chemistry with Kiger and Cernoch to see similar success next season.
The other seniors on the team, Josh Peck and Ladd Harrison, were also valuable assets to the team’s success in the shortened season. Peck was ranked at #85 in singles and Harrison served as a team captain. Peck and Harrison contributed to the depth of singles players that UNC employed last season along with their All-America teammates.
If all four seniors opt to return and take the extra year of eligibility, North Carolina would have a squad with six seniors on its 2021 roster. While the NCAA did grant an extra year of eligibility to seniors affected by the canceled season, it did not grant expansions of scholarship and roster size limits, calling into question how UNC will make its 2021 roster work if players do decide to return.
On the surface, opening up the roster is great for seniors who missed out on their final season, but the logistics of this possibility will be a lingering question.
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