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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Covering UNC's women's tennis historic run to program's first National Championship

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Junior Fiona Crawley celebrates after securing a singles point against N.C. State on May 20, 2023. The Tar Heels won, 4-1.

I’m a big believer in the butterfly effect. 

Three simple decisions led me to sit in the stands of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., to write about the North Carolina women’s tennis team winning their first NCAA National Championship. 

The first was a decision to pick up a tennis racket for the first time and join my high school’s women’s tennis team. Lots of sweat, intense tan lines and long matches under the hot North Carolina sun built a foundation for a love of the sport, even if my short tennis career ended once I graduated.

Five years later, I joined The Daily Tar Heel sports desk and altered the trajectory of my journalism career. When Hunter Nelson replied to my email about switching desks, sitting in my tiny north campus dorm room, I went from journalist to sports journalist.

The final path-altering moment occurred over Christmas break. As a senior writer, I could choose any spring sport to become the beat writer for. Women’s tennis was the obvious choice. 

Throughout the past few months, I aimed to uplift The Daily Tar Heel’s women’s tennis coverage and uncover the underlying narratives of a historically talented team and the winningest coach in ACC women’s tennis history.

Women’s tennis beat writing has taken me from Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, right outside to the brand-new, crisp blue courts of the Chewning Tennis Center, Cary and now Orlando. 

Almost every weekend, I took a bus to UNC’s tennis facilities to watch the Tar Heels knock down opponent after opponent.

I’ve seen junior Fiona Crawley — the No. 1 collegiate women’s tennis player — belt the national anthem at the top of her lungs on senior day for her graduating teammates before a big match against Duke. On Super Bowl Sunday, I watched for almost three hours as Carson Tanguilig battled it out in three close sets and a tie-breaker at the ITA National Indoor Semifinals.

I had a front-row seat and a bright-red sunburn to prove it when N.C. State spoiled UNC’s perfect record in the ACC Championship match, and I saw the tears and disappointment that followed. 

I drove eight hours to watch UNC take on Florida, Texas and Georgia, and worked tirelessly with summer sports editor Matthew Maynard to provide high-quality coverage in anticipation for this historic moment. 

So, when Saturday arrived and the stage was set for another N.C. State versus North Carolina championship match-up, I held my breath. Not because I was breaking my objective-spectator headspace that all good journalists should have, but because putting out a victory edition was something I wanted to do more than anything. It was a chance to be a part of DTH history. 

And, at approximately 9:30 p.m., I looked up from my laptop in the press conference room to see the national championship trophy on the table in front of me. I leaned back in my seat, took a deep breath and then went back to writing.

Every story, every memorable post-game interview, and now, a special edition all because of those three seemingly-simple decisions — butterfly effect, indeed.

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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