With the cloud of COVID-19 looming over the season, the North Carolina women's tennis team will look to maintain its spot as a perennial national power in 2021. Here's a recap of last year's success, a preview of this season's schedule and what to look out for as UNC enters the new campaign:
Recap of last season
The Tar Heels were out for blood to start 2019-20 after falling to Stanford in the NCAA semifinals the prior year. One ITA National Indoor Team Championship and 18 matches later, UNC was a perfect 18-0. By the time the Tar Heels beat No. 14 Wake Forest on March 8, the Tar Heels had established themselves as the No. 1 team in the nation and potential national title contenders.
But Wake Forest would be the last competitive match UNC would play that season. On March 12, all NCAA spring championships were canceled due to COVID-19, and the ACC followed suit, canceling all remaining competition.
But with every player on last year’s roster returning, a top-five incoming class of three first-years and a No. 2 preseason ranking, UNC looks as strong as ever going into 2020-2021.
How will the schedule look this season?
About the same as last season — the Tar Heels are slated to take on a hefty out-of-conference schedule to go with ACC play.
The preseason concluded with invitational matches against No. 8 N.C. State and No. 10 Virginia. The regular season is set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19, when the Tar Heels host UNC-Wilmington at 2 p.m.
UNC will then host an ITA Kickoff Weekend event that will include Notre Dame, Old Dominion and Ole Miss, before entering non-conference play and the ITA Indoor Championships. The ACC Championships are set to take place from April 21 through April 25.
Key players to watch
Three top-six singles players. Three top-60 doubles pairs. Seven top-120 singles players — and that includes a first-year. What more can be said about UNC's talent level that hasn’t been said already?
The big dogs deserve mention: No. 3 senior Alexa Graham is coming off of a season in which she was named an ITA All-American in singles and doubles play. No. 4 senior Sara Daavettila was named the Most Outstanding Player at the ITA Team Championships last season. And No. 6 junior Cameron Morra, whose unique path to UNC led her to become the school’s first first-year to reach the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship in 2019.
Already, No. 120 first-year Fiona Crawley, who was ranked No. 1 in the 2020 recruiting class, has shown promise after taking down N.C. State’s No. 38 Adriana Reami in straight sets on Friday.
What to expect?
The same emphasis on a strong team culture that has defined head coach Brian Kalbas’ tenure at UNC will be as important as ever going into a topsy-turvy season where anything can change at any time. Expect the stars of Graham, Daavettila and No. 49 Makenna Jones to burn bright as all three near the end of their eligibility.
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