Although the final score of the night was not in its favor, the No. 14 UNC men's tennis team emerged from their match against No. 3 TCU with their heads held high.
The 3-4 loss at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center had gone down to the wire, and up until the end, looked as if it could swing either way. For the Tar Heels, that feat alone gave them hope for the future. Going into the match, they knew the Horned Frogs would be difficult to beat. The team, which boasts a roster of highly-skilled international players, is one of the favorites for an NCAA title in the spring.
UNC was aware the match would be the first true test of how it stacks up against one of the best teams in the nation.
“I think we’re a really good team, and we’re knocking on the door,” graduate player Brian Cernoch said. “We showed that today even though we didn't get the win.”
Doubles play for the Tar Heels got off to a shaky start, with both the No. 2 and No. 3 courts dropping their matches to allow TCU to get the first point on the board. The duo of graduate transfer Ryan Seggerman and sophomore Casey Kania overcame the national No. 4 doubles team in a 6-4 victory.
Ultimately, though, it would prove to be the doubles point that made the difference between winning and losing for the team — something that was not lost on head coach Sam Paul.
“We’re just not playing complete matches yet in doubles so we gotta keep working on that,” he said. “We’re gonna get tougher.”
Coming out of the first portion of the match at a disadvantage, the Tar Heels needed to step up in singles to have a chance at besting the Horned Frogs. However, both Cernoch and Seggerman dropped the first set by a significant margin.
Cernoch, facing No. 8 Jake Fearnley, trailed 2-6 after being unable to match his opponent's extreme consistency from the baseline. His anger was evident, as he threw his hands up and shook his head after every ball hit into the net or out of bounds.
“I was getting a little agitated, a little frustrated in the first set, just kind of in my own head about a couple different things,” Cernoch said. “(In the second set) I just tried to stay focused, loosen up a little bit, and just trust my shots.”
The turnaround was immediate in the next set.
Suddenly, a player who looked overmatched minutes earlier was controlling the court and forcing his opponent to make errors. Once the forward momentum began rolling for Cernoch, he dominated, winning the next two sets 6-3, 6-4 and slamming the match point home with an ace.
Cernoch said the win gave him the confidence he needed to believe that he could compete with the best of the best in the world of collegiate tennis.
Seggerman, playing opposite Cernoch on court two, had an almost identical trajectory, dropping the first set 1-6 after being completely shut down by TCU’s Sander Jong. However, he too was able to gather his composure and fight his way back into contention. Seggerman came from behind to clinch a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win for the Tar Heels.
“I just stayed out there and stayed positive,” Seggerman said. “The coaches have helped me a lot in these kinds of moments with being able to find my game if it's not there at the beginning.”
Although the team was not able to secure four points when the three-hour match concluded, the performances of team leaders like Cernoch and Seggerman speak volumes for UNC’s potential once it gets more mileage under its belt.
“I think we’re far from our best,” Seggerman said. “If we’re gonna lose these, we want to lose them now and grow from it. When we are firing on all cylinders, I think we're gonna be a really scary team.”
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