Fiona Crawley said she’d be lying if she didn’t feel the pressure.
The first game of the indoor tennis season was an adjustment for the entire team, especially Crawley, a junior, as well as sophomore Carson Tanguilig, who were playing on courts one and two respectively. Both players were successful in the fall, but faced struggles against their opponents in their singles games on Friday. The team ultimately overcame challenges to claim a 5-2 victory against Elon University.
Crawley and Tanguilig ended the fall season on a high note, winning the ITA Regionals Doubles Title in October. Crawley went on to claim both ITA fall singles majors — something that hadn't been accomplished by any female collegiate player since Francesca Di Lorenzo in 2016.
The duo of Tanguilig and Crawley began Friday’s match by beating Elon junior Lizette Reding and senior Sibel Tanik 6-3 on court one to secure the doubles point for UNC. Crawley and Tanguilig said that they’ve learned specific lessons by playing together.
“She’s taught me to try to not overthink doubles," Crawley said. "It comes really naturally to her, and so it’s really beautiful to watch her play and be able to play with her."
Tanguilig said she admires Crawley’s pure love for the sport.
“You can tell she just enjoys tennis so much, and it’s so fun. It just kinda shows me how to enjoy (it) more," said Tanguilig.
Head coach Brian Kalbas has not confirmed whether or not Crawley and Tanguilig will remain doubles partners throughout the season but said that he has liked what he's seen so far from them.
The bond between the two was clear even as they split up to side-by-side courts for their singles matches. Crawley made sure to high-five Tanguilig each time a ball rolled into her teammate’s court.
Crawley, playing on court one against Tanik, kept the first set close before dropping 7-5. Crawley only lost two sets in the entire fall season.
“There definitely are expectations,” Crawley said of playing on court one. “I hope that I can be the same player that I was in the fall.”
Crawley said she focused on Kalbas’ advice — that her attitude was more important than how she played — which she carried into her next set, winning 6-3.
“This may be just me being in my head, but I’ve never felt like the best tennis player," Crawley said. "I’ve never been the strongest, I’ve never been the fastest, but I’m gonna try the hardest. And I’m gonna try to get one ball back."
Crawley ultimately won 10-5 in a tiebreaker, after the Tar Heels had already secured a team victory.
Unlike Crawley, who had a comeback victory, Tanguilig dominated her first singles set against Elon first-year Madison Cordisco, 6-2. She led in the second set 5-2 when Cordisco won two games back-to-back.
“After losing those couple (of) games, I knew I needed to change something," Tanguilig said. "Coach came on my court and was telling me I lost my court positioning.
After her coach’s reinforcement of what she needed to do, Tanguilig said she felt calmer heading into the next game, which she won.
Tanguilig's 6-2, 6-4 success was the final point needed for UNC to clinch the overall team victory, following the doubles point and senior Elizabeth Scotty’s 6-0, 6-0 win and graduate student Abbey Forbes’ 6-3, 6-1 win.
Crawley said this stretch of the year is her favorite part, despite any obstacles.
“Team season is probably the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life, and may ever have,” Crawley said. “Competing for a school that you love so much and people that you love so much, it’s unparalleled.”
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