At the end of the North Carolina's senior day match, UNC men's tennis head coach Sam Paul had just one thing to say.
“How much did our seniors step up?”
In Sunday's 4-2 win over Miami, the match was a tight three-and-a-half-hour battle to the finish and, fittingly, the seniors were at the forefront of the effort.
From the beginning of doubles play, it was clear that the Hurricanes would put up a strong fight, coming out of the gates challenging North Carolina on all three courts.
The No. 3 court pairing of first-year Will Jansen and graduate Karl Poling finished their contest first with a 6-4 win. It was graduate Brian Cernoch, playing alongside first-year Benjamin Kittay, that clinched the doubles point for North Carolina.
Tied at deuce on match point, Cernoch faced a slow-moving lob off the racket of one of his opponents. He drew his racquet back slowly and then slammed the ball onto the other side of the court, finishing the contest in a dramatic fashion and giving UNC a 1-0 lead going into singles.
Paul named Cernoch his standout player of the match.
“He’s fighting his tail off,” Paul said. “I love him like my son. He’s got more to do in the tournament, and he’s gonna do it. His grit and fight are what impressed me the most.”
To an outside observer, Cernoch may have seemed like an unlikely choice — he went on to drop his singles match in two sets, 1-6, 4-6. However, the graduate student, who is in his fifth and final season as a Tar Heel, helps the Tar Heels not only through his skill but also through his leadership.
The younger players said Cernoch was a major source of inspiration for them on Sunday. They wanted to win for him and for the other graduating seniors on the team.
In the end, the rookies got their chance to win for the veterans. Jansen proved to be the deciding factor in the match — winning the third set 6-3 after losing the second in a tiebreak.
“I really look up to that guy,” Jansen said of Cernoch. “He's an absolute legend and took me under his wing.”
Cernoch was not the only senior that played a role in the Tar Heels win. Graduate Ryan Seggerman, who transferred to North Carolina from Princeton this season to use his fifth year of eligibility, put in an impressive showing in singles play to come from behind and win his match.
Seggerman said that moment, and the resulting celebration, was the perfect ending to his time in Chapel Hill.
“I don't think it’s really set in,” he said. “Coming to Carolina, these were the kind of matches, the atmosphere — it’s why I wanted to be a Tar Heel.”
With the victory over Miami, North Carolina earned a first and second-round bye in the ACC Tournament, putting the team in a good position to compete for the program's first tournament championship since 2002.
Starting on Friday, Seggerman and Cernoch will look to lead the team to that goal as they compete for the ACC title in Cary.
“These guys, you know, they've put in so much hard work the last four or five years to up this program,” Jansen said. “They've been absolute legends. They're like my brothers and I’m really gonna miss them — I think in the last match we’ll have some tears”
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