After entering Friday's matchup against No. 9 Duke with a 23-0 record, a shocking loss to the Blue Devils marked the end of an almost perfect regular season for the No. 1 North Carolina women’s tennis team.
Despite the loss, the Tar Heels are driving themselves forward into the postseason.
They are coming off a regular season that saw the team catapult to No. 1 in the nation, win the ITA National Indoor Championships this winter and have top-ranked players in both singles and doubles.
Through all the success, there seemed to be one common factor that helped the team reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“We’re super positive,” first-year Carson Tanguilig said. “I just think that our camaraderie and team chemistry has been so good this season, and it has helped us through the toughest moments.”
However, each victory raised the team's standards. Eventually, it reached a point where losing was no longer an option.
The match against Duke shattered the team’s hopes of completing an undefeated season. It left a stain on the season that will be difficult to remove.
The team's postseason run, which will begin on Friday at the ACC Championships in Rome, Ga., will depend on how well the Tar Heels can get back on their feet after last Friday’s defeat. Recovering from a loss is a mental test that North Carolina hasn’t faced this season, but the team has taken the match as an opportunity to grow stronger.
“There are a lot of things that we can learn about our team that maybe we were just shoving under the rug,” head coach Brian Kalbas said. “I’m very happy that our team was responsive after that match and that they’re excited to get back on the court again.”
The team returned to its normal practice schedule Monday in the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. The Tar Heels' intensity during their practice was unyielding, as they are determined to be at their best level for the conference tournament later this week.
“I’m feeling excitement,” sophomore Fiona Crawley said. “I really love the ACC Tournament, I love Rome and I feel like this is a really good opportunity for us to show that we can bounce back after our loss to Duke.”
North Carolina has considerable talent on its team, with the No. 1 doubles team in the nation and five singles players making the top 50 in the ITA rankings. Last week, senior Cameron Morra moved up four spots to position herself in the fourth rank.
Team veterans like Morra are hungry for postseason success, especially after the tight losses to Stanford and Pepperdine in the 2019 and 2021 NCAA tournaments.
North Carolina aims to grow from its struggles this season to deliver at the national scale.
“In 2019 and 2021, we went to the postseason having won the ACCs and then being undefeated in the regular seasons,” Kalbas said. “I think there were a few things that didn’t go our way. This year, things haven’t been going our way, and we’ve been able to compete and figure it out.”
North Carolina will kick off ACC Tournament play against either No. 35 Florida State or No. 39 Notre Dame. Regardless of what may come in the postseason, the team has shown that it is capable of defeating top teams at the ACC level and beyond. Their success will depend on how well they can resolve tight situations during their matches.
“We take it one match at a time,” Kalbas said. “We want to get back to what made us so strong during the regular season, and that’s our identity, our culture and overall competitiveness.”
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