As No. 21 UNC junior Fiona Crawley walked off stadium court at Cary Tennis Park, she had every right to feel confident.
“We're already making Carolina history," she said.
After slamming LSU’s No. 24 ranked Kylie Collins 6-3, 6-2 in the final round of the ITA Women's All-American singles championship, Crawley became only the second UNC women's tennis player to ever attain the title. Not only was she the first Tar Heel to achieve this feat since Jaime Loeb in 2013, but in doing so, she has successfully cemented her place as the leader of North Carolina's women's tennis team.
“Winning this tournament is just a great accomplishment for her, so [I’m] really proud of her,” head coach Brian Kalbas said.
Crawley started off fall play with a bang — clinching the singles title at the Fall Ranked Spotlight at the end of September. This week's victories contribute to an outstanding singles record of over 90 wins and only 8 losses in her time at North Carolina.
“This program, it means so much to me and I love my coaches and my team so much," Crawley said. "Every time that I wear Carolina (blue) I just try to represent it for what it is, which is incredible. I hope that everybody can have the college experience that I'm having."
Throughout the week-long tournament, Crawley played with poise and maturity — only dropping one singles set out of the 11 that she competed in. In the final round, she set a dominant tone from the start, winning every point in the first game.
After the first game, Crawley and Collins appeared evenly matched, and each point was defined by long, fast-paced rallies. Ultimately, Crawley's consistency and even-tempered mentality allowed her to gain the upper hand as she forced Collins to repeatedly make accuracy errors.
However, Crawley was not the only North Carolina player who stood out this week, as three out of four players in the singles semifinals were Tar Heels. Senior Anika Yarlagadda, who was unranked coming into the tournament, also turned in a commanding performance.
Yarlagadda made it through six rounds of qualifying and main-draw play before being defeated in the semifinals. She has never played in a national event before, which made her run even more impressive.
“It was amazing to play next to my teammates with so many familiar faces around us," Yarlagadda said, "It felt like home. I think we had such an advantage.”
Kalbas also credits these performances to the camaraderie and friendship that the girls share.
“The team chemistry could not be any better right now,” Kalbas said. “The girls, they compete hard, they play with tremendous passion, but they truly care for each other and they root for each other, so I’m just really excited for the season to start.”
This team spirit is evident throughout the players' attitudes.
Despite having to face off against each other multiple times throughout the tournament, culminating with Crawley edging out teammate sophomore Carson Tanguilig in the semifinals, the girls continued to support and root for each other's success.
Every member of the team was in attendance to watch Crawley compete in the finals on Sunday morning, and as soon as the final point was played, surrounded her on the court in excitement.
When speaking about the remaining fall tournaments, and the steadily approaching spring season, Kalbas believes that maintaining this unity will be the key to further success.
“It says a lot for our team if we can have tremendous success on the court but also togetherness off the court” Kalbas said.
Crawley agrees with this notion of teamwork, but also emphasizes the necessity of having fun over everything else.
“There's always room for improvement," Crawley said. "I love the game and I love playing and I'm always trying to get better. Once you stop enjoying it, that's when the dream kind of dies."
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