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'We all wanted this one today': No. 1 UNC women's tennis advances to NCAA Quarterfinals


The UNC women’s tennis team before matches against the Florida State University Seminoles at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Friday, March 31, 2023. The Tar Heels won 6-1.

When the North Carolina women’s tennis team traded their sweat-soaked blue shirts for a fresh white uniform before singles started, they hit the reset button. 

On Friday at the NCAA Super Regional, UNC lost a tightly-contested battle for the doubles point to No. 16 Florida after junior Fiona Crawley and graduate Abbey Forbes fell short in a tie-break. Thanks to a shut-out performance in singles, the Tar Heels posted a 4-1 victory over the Gators.

“We all wanted this one today,” first-year Reese Brantmeier said.

Losing the doubles point is a rare occurrence for the team — an outcome that only happened three times in the regular season. The last time UNC didn’t secure the first team point, N.C. State beat them in the ACC championship title match. To keep the team’s tournament hopes alive, North Carolina needed to brush off the early defeat and dominate in singles play.

“We put up a good fight,” Brantmeier said. “But we knew, you know, it's only one point at the end of the day. So everyone was locked in and ready to go.” 

After a brief team huddle to regroup, the top-6 UNC singles players hustled inside the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center to swap uniforms, representing a fresh start, senior Anika Yarlagadda said. 

When they returned to the courts of Chewning Tennis Center, the team’s focus was on coming out strong and refusing to allow Florida to build significant momentum — a mentality that was crucial,  coach Brian Kalbas said, and that allowed the Tar Heels to win all six first sets.

Brantmeier played at the No. 1 singles spot for UNC, and on Friday, she put up her first-ever singles victory in an NCAA Tournament match and evened up the score with a 6-3, 6-1 win. For the entirety of her match-up, the first-year dictated the pace and forced Florida’s No. 17 Sarah Dahlstrom on the defensive with hard-hit strokes in every corner of the backcourt. 

“I am really happy with how I executed, and obviously, the energy is crazy,” she said. “I feel like it is one of my favorite matches regardless of how I played just because of the moment.”

A usually-quiet Brantmeier said she fed off the energy of the crowd Friday night, unafraid to let out yells and cheers after executing a well-placed shot. She said coach Tyler Thomson pointed out she was more fired up and vocal than usual, but high energy was what the entire team needed to clinch the victory. 

Yarlagadda put another crucial point on the scoreboard for UNC with a 6-3, 6-2 victory, and she said she relied on the presence of her teammates beside her to clear her head and focus on winning. 

I kind of just say that to myself — I'm like, ‘Take the pressure off a little bit,’” Yarlagadda said. “But I also just try to stay really positive and know that my point is important.”

When she struggled to put away her first set and Florida’s Bente Spee decreased the deficit to one game, Kalbas said the key for Yarlagadda was “playing her game” and aggressively focusing on her opponent’s weaker side. Once she did that, Yarlagadda won out in the first and confidently dominated in the second. 

The initial loss of the doubles point did not unnerve the North Carolina team. The cheering for each other and themselves never faltered, their minds were clear and the early deficit was left behind them with the uniforms they discarded in the locker room. 

“It shows that when things don't go our way, we can respond and get tough,” Kalbas said. “And I think we did a really good job of that. When we lost a tough doubles point, we had to respond and we did that.”


@dthsports |

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