After two hours and 20 minutes, Carson Tanguilig’s singles match was still not over.
In the semi-final match against then-No. 3 Texas A&M on Feb. 12, the sophomore’s three long sets and an additional tiebreak all led to this moment — a moment that would decide whether UNC would advance to the ITA Team Indoor National Championship match for the eleventh time.
Tanguilig bounced the ball, took a deep breath and served. The moment her opponent’s return hit outside the back line, Tanguilig threw her racket, put both hands in the air and screamed as her teammates rushed toward her.
The sophomore's point put the North Carolina women’s tennis team on the path to becoming ITA champions for the fourth year in a row and for the seventh time in program history. The match also marked the first time UNC women’s tennis had lost the doubles point all season.
The Tar Heels needed a comeback and Tanguilig delivered.
After more than three hours of total play, Tanguilig's celebration was an almost cathartic experience — a release of the intense pressure. The errant hit and her yell confirmed that UNC was once again going to the finals.
“It was the most relieving thing ever,” Tanguilig said. “I couldn't believe the match was over, and I was overcome with so many emotions. Just a huge sigh of relief, and I'm super glad I could pull it out for the team.”
The No. 32 pair of first-year Reese Brantmeier and senior Elizabeth Scotty were defeated by No. 3 senior Carson Branstine and sophomore Mary Stoiana. This loss was followed by an upset of the No. 1 duo of junior Fiona Crawley and Tanguilig by graduate Salma Ewing and Jayci Goldsmith.
UNC assistant coach Tyler Thomson described Texas A&M as the more aggressive team at the beginning of doubles play. Brantmeier said the Tar Heels knew they had to turn things around after starting in a deficit.
"It almost locks you in more because there's less room for error going into singles," she said.
Crawley, Brantmeier and Scotty put UNC up 3-2 in singles play, but the team needed one more win to survive the match.
Tanguilig defeated graduate student Salma Ewing 6-0 in the first set but fell in the second set 4-6. The UNC sophomore said she started losing confidence, and head coach Brian Kalbas told her to be more decisive with her shots.
Ewing tied up the third set’s score 6-6 to force a tiebreak, and that was when Tanguilig said she started feeling the pressure. With most of her teammates standing on the court beside her, she said she “blacked out” and stayed focused on leaving the court with a victory.
Tanguilig dominated the tiebreak, pulling away with a score of 7-2.
“It's so great when Carson, in this case, in that type of situation, on that type of stage, responds with some of her best tennis,” Thomson said. “The confidence that she gains from that is invaluable going forward."
The Tar Heels faced the Georgia Bulldogs the next day for the championship match. North Carolina did not drop a single match point, sweeping the Bulldogs 4-0 and becoming national champions once again. This win came much more easily, as the entire match took almost the same amount of time as Tanguilig’s semifinals-clinching singles win.
Another match ended with a special clinch: graduate student Abbey Forbes served a perfect ace to win the final team point – Tanguilig’s favorite moment from the entire tournament.
The joy of winning the title and the celebration has not stopped. At the first team practice since ITAs on Thursday, the Tar Heels were all smiles, laughing and cheering for one another.
As UNC enters conference play on Friday, Thompson is hoping these high spirits can continue.
“Everybody is still in a little afterglow,” Thomson said. “We’ll ride that as long as we can.”
@dthsports | email@example.com
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