The No. 2 North Carolina men’s tennis team won the 2021 ITA Indoor National Championships last weekend in Champaign, Ill. This is the second time the Tar Heels have taken this title in the last five years.
The tournament started Friday night, with the No. 2-seeded Tar Heels facing the No. 7-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. Junior Brian Cernoch said winning that match was key to setting the tone early.
“It was just playing a complete match,” Cernoch said. “We just wanted to keep our foot on the gas and kind of close them out.”
After winning the doubles point, Cernoch and senior Simon Soendergaard went on to win both their singles matches. Senior Benjamin Sigouin finished his match with a 6-4, 6-4 win to send UNC to the semifinals.
In the next day's semifinals, the Tar Heels took on the No. 6-seeded Virginia Cavaliers. Knowing the team would face some tough doubles competition, North Carolina won only one doubles match and found itself down 2-0 early on in singles play. Still, Cernoch was unfazed.
“I had full belief in the entire team that we were going to come back and pull it off,” Cernoch said. “If it takes an hour and a half, it takes an hour and a half. If it takes three hours, four hours, we will be there, and we are going to be the last team standing.”
The Tar Heels rallied together in singles play to pull out the 4-2 win over the Cavaliers. After Sigouin lost his match early, Soendergaard sparked the team’s comeback by beating his opponent 6-2, 6-4 and giving UNC its first point of the match. Sophomore Rinky Hijikata and senior Josh Peck followed in Soendergaard’s footsteps, winning their matches shortly after. Cernoch won the clinching match that sent North Carolina to Sunday's finals.
“I think they just kept their composure,” head coach Sam Paul said. “(In) the other matches, we were in control.”
In the championship match of the tournament, the Tar Heels faced the No.4-seeded Baylor Bears. North Carolina took the doubles point early, with the team of senior Mac Kiger and Soendergaard winning 6-4 at No. 2 doubles, while Hijikata and Sigouin closed out doubles play with a 6-2 win at the No. 3 spot. With an early jump on Baylor, the Tar Heels confidently headed into singles play.
But no singles match came easy for the team during this championship matchup. Senior William Blumberg won his match at No. 1 singles by a score of 6-3, 7-6. Sigouin also played a long match, beating out his opponent 6-3, 7-5.
Once again, it was Cernoch who would play the clinching match that secured the win for the Tar Heels. He won the first set in a tiebreaker against Baylor’s Nick Stachowiak, who was not giving him any easy points. In the final point of the match, Stachowiak hit a ball long, and Cernoch’s teammates stormed onto the court and huddled around him in celebration.
“It’s huge for us,” Cernoch said. “All year, we have been talking about, ‘We want to do it for the fifth-years and for the seniors,’ you know, get that title for them. We came up just short last year, and I know that’s why they came back this year.”
Paul said he was impressed with his team’s overall performance against some of the best teams in the country. With this big win under their belt, the Tar Heels now have a huge wave of momentum heading into ACC play.
“We played a little bit better every single day,” Paul said. “It was a total team effort (...) every day, someone else stepped up.”