The UNC women’s tennis team has not lost a match since the start of its 2019-20 season.
But just last week, one of senior tennis star Makenna Jones’ professors asked her about her team’s record-breaking 35-match win streak.
Jones had no idea the streak even existed.
“None of my teammates have even talked about it, and I think that that just shows that it really is unimportant," Jones said. "We are just having such a good time and working hard at every match. It’s just something that exists.”
The team’s current streak is the longest in program history, surpassing the 2015 squad’s 27 matches in a row by eight. Those wins have led the team to win back-to-back ITA Indoor national titles — another first for the program.
The Tar Heels' success this season can be attributed to many factors, but three of the most vital are redshirt seniors Jones, Sara Daavettila and Alexa Graham. These players have altogether achieved 356 singles victories to date, along with a multitude of individual honors.
Of the five national team indoor crowns the Tar Heels have won, Jones, Daavettila and Graham have led the team to three of them: 2018, 2020 and 2021.
“The history of success was definitely there,” Jones said. “But when Alexa, Sara and I came in, we all joked like, ‘Let’s see how many rings we can get while we’re here.'"
The women returned for their second senior year after a shortened COVID-19 season, and are joined by 10 other players, including first-year Fiona Crawley, sophomore Elizabeth Scotty and junior Cameron Morra.
The talent those 13 players bring to the court is curated by head coach Brian Kalbas, the winningest coach in ACC women’s tennis history. This season marks Kalbas’ 18th with UNC, and the streak is among countless UNC records he has shattered.
“I’m proud of our consistency as a program throughout the years,” Kalbas said. “It’s really the players we recruit. The players that come in every single day that respect our program, what we’re trying to do and the tradition we’ve established.”
Kalbas has a person-over-player mindset with his team, focusing on his players as human beings first and athletes second. Jones said this approach has fostered trust and a more team-oriented mindset within the often-individualized sport.
Kalbas has never had a player transfer out of the program.
These past two seasons haven’t always been 7-0 shutouts for Kalbas and UNC, though.
When UNC faced No. 3 Texas a in the ITA Indoor National Championship this winter, the team was faced with a difficult situation. After trailing the Longhorns, 3-2, the Tar Heels had to win points from both the remaining courts to prevail. Fighting hard to come back from deficits, Crawley and Scotty both edged out their opponents for the national title.
“Never losing belief in handling adverse situations with poise and excellence,” Jones said. “That’s what’s led us to where we are, versus focusing on, ‘Keep winning, keep winning.’”
UNC's mixture of talent and coaching is a recipe any tennis team needs for success. And in treating each match as a new challenge, the players have been able to play in the moment, keep their heads down and train as hard as possible.
No wonder Jones didn’t know the streak existed.
“I think what’s great about our team is that we aren’t playing with something to defend or trying to not lose,” senior Alle Sanford said. “Every time we step out there, we are trying to win and focus on that match.”