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UNC women’s tennis put in strong showing at ITA All-American Championships; place strong emphasis on doubles play

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Then first-year Reese Brantmeier and junior Reilly Tran shake hands with N.C. State players after finishing their doubles match on May 20, 2023.

In the spring, the North Carolina women’s tennis team only gave up the doubles point five times. For head coach Brian Kalbas, that was five times too many. 

During a team match, winning the doubles point means not only taking the early lead but also possessing momentum before heading into a long singles battle. For these reasons, the Tar Heels have placed an emphasis on doubles success this season. 

It’s paying off. 

At the ITA All-American Championships earlier this month, doubles pair sophomore Reese Brantmeier and senior Elizabeth Scotty, as well as senior Fiona Crawley and junior Carson Tanguilig, both made it to the quarterfinals before falling in their respective matches. This summer, both pairs met head-to-head in the NCAA doubles championship. While Crawley and Tanguilig clinched the match in a tie-breaker set, the Tar Heels’ overall performance in doubles feels stronger than ever after the all-blue final and early fall season tournaments. 

But despite these accolades, Kalbas is not fully satisfied. 

“All-Americans we obviously would have liked to have done better but they did extremely well,” Kalbas said. “Three doubles teams in the main draw, two get to the quarters. So it’s really one of the best tournaments in the fall. We’re still a work in progress in doubles. We can get a lot better. But I think it shows we’ve put an emphasis on it and I think it’s paid off so far.”

For a team that only lost the doubles point a handful of times, how much better can the Tar Heels really get?

To Kalbas, it’s all about fine-tuning. 

“The quantity of doubles drills we do has definitely gone up,” Brantmeier said. “We always focus a lot on doubles but being super intentional and making sure we’re adding it in every practice.”

Two themes are a big focus in doubles for a UNC team trying to defend its title: aggressiveness and efficiency. 

“We’re more aggressive from the baseline but also trying to be more efficient with our serving percentage and our return percentage,” Kalbas said. “If we get that in a high percentage situation, that’s going to help us be more aggressive and more active.” 

For Brantmeier and Scotty, this mindset has been key. 

To not hinder Brantmeier’s “huge serve,” Scotty is looking to take the net and be more aggressive this season. She has also worked to improve her serve to give Brantmeier the same opportunities up front to play the first-strike tennis that Kalbas emphasizes.

But despite this success and mindset, North Carolina still has some way to go before reaching perfection. 

Both teams fell in the quarterfinals with Brantmeier and Scotty dropping to rival N.C. State. Last season, one of the five doubles points lost was against the Wolfpack and resulted in the Tar Heels’ only team loss. However, the red-clad team that stepped out on the court at the All-Americans was different from the one North Carolina is familiar with.

“They’re playing with the same jersey but it’s completely different players,” Brantmeier said. “We’ve never played that team. Even though it seems familiar with N.C. State, it’s definitely a new team. They came out [and] played really well.”

With new and stronger teams playing that same first-strike tennis that the Tar Heels are trying to perfect, their goal is to keep steadily building as the spring season approaches. 

In November, North Carolina will travel to the ITA National Fall Championships for another opportunity to demonstrate the aggressiveness and efficiency that Kalbas  is chasing. 

“You want to win, but that’s not the mindset you necessarily want to have,” Scotty said. “It’s more of like, how can we continue improving and how can we put ourselves in the best winning chance. And to do that, it’s going back to the basics and playing first-strike tennis and being aggressive.”

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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