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Wednesday December 7th

After extraordinary fall season, Crawley aims to lead UNC women's tennis to NCAA title

Fiona Crawley hits the ball during her singles match against Elon University's Lizette Reding on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Chapel Hill, NC.
Buy Photos Fiona Crawley hits the ball during her singles match against Elon University's Lizette Reding on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Fiona Crawley’s energy is infectious.

From the moment she starts talking, it's plain to see that her bubbly personality and humble attitude make her a UNC women's tennis team favorite. Long story short, she’s someone people want to see succeed.

And the junior is no stranger to success. This fall, Crawley made history for the women's tennis team, becoming the first Tar Heel to record an undefeated singles record over the fall season. On top of this, she claimed both ITA fall singles majors this season — something that hasn't been accomplished by any female collegiate player since Francesca Di Lorenzo in 2016.

“Honestly, I think that I’m still kind of in shock,” Crawley said. “It’s hard to compartmentalize, but looking back I don't know how I did it.”

What makes Crawley's ascent to the top of collegiate tennis even more impressive is the fact that she’s never played above the number four spot in her time at UNC. Last year, heading into the NCAA singles championships, Crawley was still a major underdog — entering the round of 64 unranked before making it to the semifinals. This year, Crawley is ready to take the next leap in her North Carolina career and hopes to help UNC capture its first NCAA team title.

Head coach Brian Kalbas credits Crawley's determination to the fact that she has "never counted herself out" despite her ranking. He also cited Crawley's NCAA tournament run last year as the point in the national champion's career that "flipped the switch."

“I talked to her at the end of the year about just having that mental switch continue through the summer into the fall, and making sure that she realizes that not only is she one of the best players on our team, which she demonstrated last year, but she's also one of the best players in the country," Kalbas said.

Crawley takes this advice from Kalbas seriously. Prior to the ITA National Fall Championships, Crawley said she “trusts (her) coaches with (her) life” and that she would try her hardest to follow any tips that they offered her. 

This willingness to adapt, learn and grow is the driving force behind Crawley’s transition from a good player to a great one. Coupled with her seeming lack of ego, she has become one of the most beloved figures on the team. 

“She just respects everyone we play and is a really good energy on the court to have,” sophomore teammate, and new doubles partner Carson Tanguilig said. “I just know that (when) she's behind me, I can trust her.”

This is by no means a one-way street, however. Crawley places a huge emphasis on building relationships with her teammates and is often more eager to speak about their accomplishments than her own. After the ITA Nationals had concluded, in which she and Tanguilig had lost the doubles championship in the final round, the first thing she did was reach out to her teammate. 

“I texted Carson when we finally landed (after a) 12-hour flight," Crawley said. "I was like 'Carson, you’re absolutely a joy to play with.' It’s so fun and easy to play with just full trust and no judgment — that trust element is really what carried us through all the way to the finals.” 

When asked about her favorite memory in her time at North Carolina, it was not one of her singles victories that Crawley listed. It was actually an individual loss and a team win that stood out to her the most.

“This past year at NCAA’s, beating Pepperdine was really memorable even though I lost to Savannah Broadus," she said. "Just giving ourselves the opportunity to get to that next match and have the opportunity to play Texas — that was really an amazing feeling to be with the team and give ourselves that opportunity,”

Team championships are not something that the UNC women's tennis team is familiar with. In its history, the program has produced one individual NCAA champion and two doubles NCAA champions, but has eluded the coveted NCAA team championship.

Crawley wants to change this in the spring.

She remembers all too well the pain of losing to Texas last year in the NCAA semifinals. She felt like the Tar Heels had been training the whole season for the match, but were just unable to get over the hump. 

This year, she’s determined to capture a historical first NCAA team title for UNC.

“It’s a pretty big goal, and it's scary to say out loud but we’re all thinking about it,” she said. “I have a really good feeling about this year and I have a really good feeling about this team.”

@PeaceGwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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