The No. 1 North Carolina women’s tennis team (28-2) traveled to Champaign, Ill., to narrowly defeat the No. 8 Pepperdine Waves (23-7), 4-3, in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Team Championship on Friday.
For the fourth time in four NCAA Championship matches, the Tar Heels took an early 1-0 lead over Pepperdine after winning the doubles match.
The No. 2 duo of sophomore Fiona Crawley and junior Elizabeth Scotty made quick work on their court, defeating the opponent, 6-1. After one of Pepperdine’s team members suffered an apparent leg injury and had to retire from the match, a 4-1 defeat by UNC duo senior Cameron Morra and sophomore Reilly Tran was all North Carolina needed to win the doubles point.
However, the Waves came crashing in during the singles matchups. With Pepperdine wins on courts one and three, the Tar Heels trailed for the first time in this championship run.
The team didn’t stay down for long though, as No. 30 Scotty put a point on the board with an outstanding performance against Pepperdine’s No. 15 Shiori Fukuda, 6-3, 6-4.
Another UNC point came from No. 51 first-year Carson Tanguilig, who defeated No. 59 Victoria Flores in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
On court four, No. 55 Crawley dropped the second dual match of her career in an upset loss to No. 85 Savannah Broadus. Crawley was defeated after two sets, squaring the match score to 3-3.
The deciding factor turned out to be junior Anika Yarlagadda, who claimed a win over Pepperdine’s Nikki Redelijk, who was inserted into the Wave’s lineup after an injury occurred early in the doubles.
This victory was not an easy one for Yarlagadda, as it came down to the third and final set to see which program would be traveling to the semifinal.
Coming up strong in the second and third sets on her court, winning 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, she brought the final match score to 4-3.
Who stood out?
The doubles teams for UNC have been consistently strong this season and can be accredited for many of its victories and success throughout this championship run.
However, when the singles matchups looked uncertain for North Carolina, Yarlagadda stepped up to carry her team to yet another Tar Heel triumph.
Playing as well as she did under such unimaginable pressure, the junior displayed her stunning athletic potential and will be one to watch in the upcoming semifinals.
When was it decided?
Even after a successful doubles match, North Carolina did not come out victorious until Yarlagadda won the final set of her singles matchup.
In this singles matchup, things looked doubtful for the Tar Heels after Pepperdine shockingly took the first swing and defeated Yarlagadda, 6-2, in the first set.
However, she fought back harder and won the last two sets, 6-3 and 6-2, to bring UNC to the NCAA Final Four.
Why does it matter?
Not only does this victory allow UNC to get one step closer to a national title, but it marks the program’s fifth NCAA Final Four. This is also the first time UNC has advanced to the semifinals in back-to-back seasons, and avenges last year's semifinal loss to Pepperdine.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will stay in Champaign to compete in the semifinal match tomorrow against No. 4 Texas at 5 p.m. If successful, the team will reach the NCAA National Title match held on Sunday.