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The Daily Tar Heel

'It wasn’t really us': No. 1 UNC women's tennis upset by Wolfpack in ACC tournament title game

The UNC women's tennis team huddles together after the 2023 ACC Women's Tennis Championship in Cary, N.C. on Sunday, April 23, 2023. UNC fell to N.C. State 4-1.

Photo Courtesy of Carolina Athletics.

For the first time all season, the North Carolina women’s tennis team fell short. 

“It wasn’t really us,” coach Brian Kalbas said. 

After coasting by Wake Forest and Virginia with 4-0 wins, the Tar Heels ultimately lost to N.C. State, 1-4, in the ACC tournament championship game on Sunday – marking the Wolfpack’s first ACC tournament title in program history. 

“(N.C. State) seemed like they were out there to accomplish something they hadn't accomplished before,” Kalbas said. “We were kind of out there trying to protect something that we've accomplished before.”

In the semifinals on Saturday, it appeared like the path for the conference tournament trophy was in view as the Tar Heels overcame Virginia’s aggressive doubles pairs and clinched the point. Kalbas said it was a performance that made him believe the North Carolina doubles teams were competing hard.

Considering the team's lackluster doubles performance the last time they played the Cavaliers, it seemed like Tar Heels were gelling at the right time.

“We lost a doubles point (against UVA in February), and I feel like that definitely motivated us more,” junior Fiona Crawley said. “But, it still is in the back of your mind like, ‘Oh God, the last time we played this team, they literally wrecked us.’”

The Tar Heels continued to excel in singles play against Virginia, making seemingly-impossible shots that allowed Crawley, senior Elizabeth Scotty and sophomore Carson Tanguilig to clinch the match victory.

But on Sunday, when UNC faced N.C. State for the second time this year, the Wolfpack was a different team. The Tar Heels earned a decisive 7-0 victory on April 6, when the Wolfpack played without their top singles player — No. 12 first-year Diana Shnaider. 

Bolstered by the return of Shnaider, N.C. State knew exactly what weaknesses to exploit in the title match. North Carolina struggled to build game-winning momentum from the get-go, as the doubles point — an opportunity for an early lead — quickly slipped through their fingers. 

“We've been doing a really good job of coming out aggressive, and we didn't really do that today,” Kalbas said. “We were very tentative, and that didn't quite translate into executing the way we needed to against a very good doubles team.”

Against a top-10 duo in N.C. State fifth-year Nell Miller and junior Amelia Rajecki, Crawley and Tanguilig struggled to find their rhythm, resulting in a 1-6 loss. Costly mistakes and rogue shots plagued graduate student Abbey Forbes and junior Reilly Tran, and the pair finished their match with a score of 2-6. 

“I look around, we're hanging our heads,” Kalbas said. “We were not quite ourselves out there, and we didn't have that competitive intensity that we've had all year long.”

Losing the doubles point meant the Tar Heels had to muster four singles victories to win the match, but ultimately, UNC could not live up to the pressure. Every singles match was an “uphill battle” according to first-year Reese Brantmeier, who was the only North Carolina player to post a singles win. 

With a loud, Wolfpack-dominated crowd behind them, the usually-poised Tar Heels seemed at a loss. Kalbas said he thought the crowd made his players "feel like they had to do more than they needed to do."

Frustration was evident as Scotty smacked her racquet into the fencing after a return went long. Her second set ended with a 1-6 loss, officially deciding the match in N.C. State’s favor and ending the Tar Heels’ record-breaking win streak. 

Still, Kalbas isn't worried — citing Sunday as a learning opportunity. The team can advance into the rest of the postseason with the lessons from the ACC title game as they seek out the program’s first NCAA championship. 

And after the pain of the loss set in, a long postgame huddle between teammates and several tears of frustration were shed, the pressure of perfection can finally roll away for the Tar Heels.


@dthsports |

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