Going into action against No. 16 Wake Forest on Sunday, UNC men's tennis head coach Sam Paul said the match against its in-state rival would be a "stern test" for his group.
The Tar Heels went into the weekend having won seven of their last nine matchups, with a Friday loss to N.C. State disrupting the team's momentum. Although the test against Wake Forest was certainly challenging, it wasn't insurmountable for the No. 13 Tar Heels, who won 4-3.
Thanks in large part to a crucial doubles point clinched by sophomore Casey Kania and graduate Ryan Seggerman and a deciding singles performance from first-year Will Jansen, the Tar Heels handled the Demon Deacons in the tightly contested victory.
Kania and Seggerman's win in No. 1 doubles gave UNC a much-needed point heading into the final stretch. In a 7-4 tiebreak victory, the pair leaned on one another to capture the win.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted but we tried to stay positive,” Seggerman said. “Casey playing well kept me locked in [and] focused, and fortunately the points went our way in the end.”
Kania also added that Paul played a large part in helping the Tar Heels stay calm. After falling behind 3-0, the tandem climbed back to force the tiebreak that eventually resulted in a key victory.
“(He told us) to commit to our game style,” Kania said. “We’re playing our best tennis when we’re not putting pressure on ourselves to hit the perfect shot or win every single point.”
Later, it was up to Jansen to mount a comeback of his own after going down 3-5 in the third and final set of singles. His match-point save and three consecutive game wins helped clinch a thrilling 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Wake Forest's Matthew Thomson.
After fending off defeat, Jansen put together a quality stretch that ultimately helped him pull away for good.
“I knew that after I saved that match point, (Thomson) would get pretty tight and nervous,” Jansen said. “The crowd really helped me and my teammates got behind me, so that was great to see.”
In just his first season in Chapel Hill, Jansen has already made an instant impact for the Tar Heels. The London native has won 12 of his 16 singles matches, with many of those victories coming at critical points in the team's competitions.
Despite the individual success, Jansen credits the strong foundation that has been established around him.
“The coaches have been absolutely amazing with me,” Jansen said. “From my official visit in September, I’ve had that chemistry with my teammates. They’re like brothers to me now.”
Just two days after falling to N.C. State in the program's first match in its new $17 million facility, the Tar Heels welcomed a sizeable crowd that played a key role in helping the team win its first match on the new courts.
When asked about the updated complex at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, Paul couldn't help but praise how much the energy at the new courts helped his squad.
“It’s just hard to describe how incredible it is. You can hear the crowd roar and I’m just taken back,” Paul said. “When you walk in, you know it’s something special. It’s going to help us so much in the future.”
With win number 15 in the books, the Tar Heels have another difficult challenge on the horizon when No. 21 Duke comes to town on Saturday.
As the team prepares for the final stretch of the season, Paul said he hopes the Tar Heels can continue to keep pushing forward.
“(Duke) is having a great season, so we’re really looking forward to it,” Paul said. “We hope everybody comes out and we'll maybe get the biggest crowd we’ve had in North Carolina history.”
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