As the No. 24 North Carolina men’s tennis team grows stronger, the value of having an experienced group of core players should not be taken lightly.
Friday afternoon’s 4-1 win over No. 29 Louisville showed the importance of the team’s veterans. Acting as role models for the younger ones, the seniors exemplified the grit and determination needed to outperform top players and win championships.
The Tar Heels had a senior-heavy lineup on Friday. The three seniors that played were on the top three courts for the singles, with Benjamin Sigouin on court one. In the doubles, the team of seniors Brian Cernoch and Mac Kiger — who are ranked top five in the nation — played their match on court one.
With years of experience on the team, they know what is demanded of them to play in a top college tennis program and continue to deliver the best out of themselves.
“Ben, Mac, Brian have been a staple to our program for a long time,” head coach Sam Paul said. “To see these guys in practice and how they carry themselves to the matches — it's good, really good.”
On Friday, the seniors were constantly using their leadership to drive the team forwards. Sigouin and sophomore Peter Murphy were the Tar Heels’ court three doubles team. Sigouin providing consistent support for his partner, encouraging him to trust his game and go for shots.
North Carolina won its court three doubles match with a 6-1 score.
The team-first mentality spearheaded by the seniors has allowed the Tar Heels to become stronger, because, to hear the youngsters tell it, they make the younger players believe in themselves.
“They are the heart and soul of the team,” Murphy said. “They are huge mentors and huge role models for all our younger guys. We always look up to them for advice, leadership, examples — they’re definitely pivotal for what we do.”
But it goes beyond encouragement. When they needed to deliver results, the seniors pushed their game to the next gear, serving as role models for the entire team.
In the doubles, Cernoch and Kiger’s partnership was a critical match that gave the Tar Heels the doubles point. The match was tight, with each team holding serve until the 5-5 game, but the Tar Heels stepped it up when they needed it.
Cernoch began hitting big from the baseline to hit through the Cardinals. UNC clinched a 7-5 win, which was important for them to start the singles matches with a 1-0 advantage.
In his singles match, Kiger also came big at the end. In his second-set tiebreaker to win the match, instead of playing it safe, he did the opposite — trusting his game at the end and hitting some high-risk shots.
Kiger’s confidence on the court was ultimately proven on match point. His strategy of choice was to serve and volley where he finished off the match with a low volley that was a couple of inches above the net.
“Since I am one of the older ones, I don’t want to let myself go too crazy,” Kiger said. “I want to be a steady presence out here so when they are looking at me, they can see someone who’s just competing and doing what he can to win.”
North Carolina will have to use the positive energy gained from Friday’s match to propel themselves into the home stretch of the season. They will need the seniors’ defiant energy to gain the upper edge when tight situations arise.
“We take one match at a time,” Paul said. “We learn from every match, and take it one day at a time to try to get better.”
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