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Thursday September 23rd

Preview: UNC men's tennis team aims to keep challenging for titles in 2020-21 season

Senior William Blumberg prepares to return the ball to Vazha Shubladze of Georgia State in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. The Tar Heels won 4-0.
Buy Photos Senior William Blumberg prepares to return the ball to Vazha Shubladze of Georgia State in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. The Tar Heels won 4-0.

After the COVID-19 pandemic cut a strong season short last year, the UNC men’s tennis team is set to pick up the 2020-21 season right where it left off.

The Tar Heels were ranked No. 2 in the ITA rankings at the end of last season, rolling with a 12-1 record and a 2-0 start in the ACC. This year, the team will bring back three fifth-year seniors who opted to return based on the NCAA’s new eligibility rules for last season’s spring athletes.

William Blumberg, one of those fifth-year seniors, stands out among the team’s returning players. Last year, Blumberg earned all-American honors in both singles and doubles for his fourth consecutive season, becoming only the third player in ITA history to do so. He was also awarded the Patterson Medal, UNC’s most prestigious athletic honor, last year. 

The two other fifth-year seniors, Josh Peck and Simon Soendergaard, bring a lot to the team as well. Peck ended last season ranked No. 85 in singles and Soendergaard shined on an all-American doubles team with senior Mac Kiger. Benjamin Sigouin, who finished last season ranked No. 53 in singles, rounds out the five-person senior class.

The Tar Heels’ roster is rich with younger talent to complement all that experience. Junior Brian Cernoch played alongside Blumberg on their all-American doubles team. Sophomore Rinky Hijikata went undefeated in singles and doubles play last season and finished ranked No. 67 in singles. 

The Tar Heels were once again No. 2 in ITA’s preseason rankings, just behind the University of Southern California, which handed them their only loss last season in the finals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. UNC sits atop a loaded ACC that includes four other teams ranked in the top 25, including N.C. State (8), Wake Forest (12), Virginia (22) and Duke (23).

The Tar Heels claim four players in ITA’s preseason singles rankings, with Blumberg ranked second overall and Sigouin, Hijikata and Peck holding spots in the top 100. In the preseason doubles rankings, the team of Kiger and Soendergaard is ranked fifth, while Blumberg and Cernoch are right behind them at six.

The season is just now starting to take off, with UNC hosting two events in Chapel Hill: the Tar Heel Invitational and the ACC Challenge. In the ACC Challenge, which concluded Monday, UNC faced N.C. State, Duke and Virginia Tech in a glimpse of what the competitive ACC could look like this year. 

UNC will start its dual match schedule against Northwestern on Jan. 24 in the ITA Kickoff Weekend event. Then, the team will return to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in February, where it will have a chance to claim gold and avenge last season’s sole loss.

With a formidable mix of talent and experience, and one of the most decorated athletes in UNC’s history leading the way, this year’s team has the potential to make the season very special.

@LucasThomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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