When the North Carolina men's tennis team took the court on Sunday, a change in the lineup was immediately clear.
No. 29-ranked graduate Ryan Seggerman was in street clothes and not warming up with the team. According to head coach Sam Paul, he has a minor injury that isn't too serious.
“He’s a little banged up,” Paul said. “He’s gonna be back real soon.”
A 6-1 win against Boston College would seem expected for the No. 10 Tar Heels. The match was the team’s first outdoor contest of 2023 and the start of ACC play.
But the absence of Seggerman, who typically plays No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles, left a gaping hole in the team. Paul’s response was to shift the entire lineup, allowing younger players to step up into bigger roles while relying on the core leaders of the team to provide consistency.
When doubles play began, Paul had called up the pair of graduate Brian Cernoch and first-year Benjamin Kittay to play in the No. 1 spot — something they had not done all year. The team got off to a quick start and immediately began to dominate en route to clinching a 6-2 win.
For Kittay, who was grinning throughout his whole postgame interview, the moment was special.
“It was really cool playing No. 1 doubles, getting that first win as a freshman,” he said.
First-year Will Jansen, who has been playing at No. 3 throughout the indoor season, stepped into Seggerman’s No. 2 position for the match. While he admitted playing at No. 2 was a challenge, Jansen appeared to be in complete control for the entirety of the contest.
After dropping an early game in the first set, he won five in a row to dominate, 6-1. The second set was played out in a similar fashion, with Jansen’s opponent being unable to handle his powerful serve. He closed out the match in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, to put the first singles point on the board for North Carolina.
Despite playing at the higher position, Jansen said he didn’t feel any pressure.
“I’m kinda used to college tennis now,” he said. “I’ve played loads of matches in the last few weeks so it's been great getting that experience with college tennis. At the start of the season I was quite nervous playing but now I’ve settled in and the team's really helping me.”
Paul emphasizes team support to the players, something that was evident after the match had ended. Following an extended victory huddle, Jansen pulled Kittay out on the courts with him, insisting they do their interview together.
The two, who are the only first-years on the roster, are almost inseparable. During their interview, the pair was more enthusiastic when talking about each other than themselves.
Their excitement extends toward the rest of the team. The duo remained on the court for Cernoch’s interview, imitating the paparazzi by taking photos and shouting at him that he was ‘the man.’
The praise for Cernoch was warranted, as he clinched a strong 6-2, 6-4 win in the No. 1 singles position.
“(I’m) happy for Brian, our senior leader,” Paul said. “He’s just solid — solid in doubles, solid in singles — his leadership, his play, he's just tremendous.”
For Cernoch, now in his final season as a Tar Heel, he’s just happy that the team got off to a solid start to conference play.
“Just being 1-0 in the ACC is great,” he said. “We’re looking forward to Louisville and Notre Dame next weekend.”
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