The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 28th

No. 21 UNC men's tennis drops close dual-match to No. 23 Columbia, 4-3

UNC sophomore Logan Zapp returns a volley during the Tar Heels’ 4-2 victory over South Carolina in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Feb. 13, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore Logan Zapp returns a volley during the Tar Heels’ 4-2 victory over South Carolina in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Feb. 13, 2022.

The No. 21 North Carolina men’s tennis team (5-4) lost to No. 23 Columbia (5-2) by a score of 4-3 in the Tar Heels’ ninth match of the season. 

What happened?

Each of the three UNC doubles teams fell behind after losing sets early. Seniors Benjamin Sigouin and Henry Lieberman trimmed Roko Horvat and Alex Kotzen’s lead to 4-3 late in the match, but then each team traded sets, putting Horvat and Kotzen ahead 5-4 and in position to clinch the victory. In need of winning another set, Sigouin and Lieberman couldn’t tie the set and fell to Horvat and Kotzen, 6-4. 

Sophomore Logan Zapp and first-year Casey Kania fell to a big deficit early but mounted a comeback and tied the game at four apiece. While the momentum appeared to be with Zapp and Kania, Columbia’s Max Westphal and Theo Winegar beat Zapp and Kania in each of the next two sets, defeating Zapp and Kania, 6-4. 

Senior Brian Cernoch and sophomore Peter Murphy kept their match with Columbia’s Henry Ruger and Jayden Templeman close, but the match went unfinished at 5-4 as the Tar Heels had already lost the doubles point after Zapp and Kania and Sigouin and Lieberman lost their doubles matches. 

At the start of the singles matches, Zapp defeated No. 96 Hugo Hashimoto 2-0 to give the Tar Heels their first team point of the match and tie the score 1-1. Columbia pulled ahead shortly after, as Austen Huang defeated Chris Li to make the team score 2-1. 

Columbia then scored another team point after Henry Ruger defeated junior Anuj Watane, but Sigouin defeated Westphal in two sets to trim Columbia’s lead to 3-2. Shortly after Sigouin cut Columbia’s lead to one, No. 73 Brian Cernoch tied the match at 3-3 after beating No. 7 Kotzen. 

In the last remaining match, Murphy fell to Columbia’s Horvat 2-0 as the Tar Heels fell just short of victory against the Lions, 4-3. 

Who stood out?

After senior Mac Kiger was ruled unable to play in the team’s singles matches, everyone below him in the rotation had to move up a spot. This meant Zapp, who would normally play on court four, had to play on court three in place of Kiger. 

Zapp, who would’ve played an unranked opponent, now faced the No. 96 player in the country and defeated him 2-0, which played a significant role in keeping UNC’s chances of beating Columbia alive. 

Cernoch also made his presence felt in this match. After a slow start in his first set, Cernoch turned things around in the second and third sets, beating top-ten opponent Kotzen 6-3 in each of the last two sets to secure the 2-1 win and a team point. 

When was it decided?

This match was tightly contested throughout, and neither team was able to take a decisive lead until the last two singles matches. Trailing 3-2, Sigouin gave the Tar Heels another team point by defeating Columbia’s Westphal 2-0, tying the match at 3-3, and putting the decisive match on the shoulders of Murphy. 

With the match on the line and the set tied at 6-6 while trailing 1-0, Murphy allowed Columbia’s Horvat to score, giving the Tar Heels their fourth loss of the season, 4-3. 

Why does it matter?

Aside from a potential fall in the rankings and its impact on the Tar Heels’ record, this loss and performance matters because it exhibits the team’s depth and shows UNC can compete against some of the nation’s best competition. 

With Kiger sidelined, players like Zapp and Murphy stepped up and played well against difficult competition, showing just how deep the UNC roster is. And while the scoreboard didn’t reflect well on the Tar Heels, they’ve shown they have what it takes to compete with the nation’s top teams by taking Columbia to the wire. 

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels’ look to bounce back in their next match at home on Friday, March 4 at 3 p.m. against ACC opponent Virginia Tech.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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