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First-year Thea Rabman shows out in UNC women's tennis sweep over Syracuse

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UNC senior Reilly Tran and first-year Thea Rabman celebrate a point during a doubles match against Boston College at Chewing Tennis Center on Saturday, March 2, 2024. UNC won 7-0.

When UNC women’s tennis senior Reilly Tran became doubles partners with first-year Thea Rabman, she said there was no awkward phase.

Rabman is not only happy-go-lucky, but a straight-talking New Yorker. That helps Tran: she too is straightforward but can be indecisive. The pair’s relationship has come natural, from first playing together at the Milwaukee Tennis Classic in September 2023, to now, when Tran cooks tofu and brussels sprouts for Rabman.

“Thea is one of the easiest people to build chemistry with,” Tran said.

It's a valuable trait for a No. 4 UNC team reeling from a season-ending injury to sophomore Reese Brantmeier, who at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country for women's singles. Now, UNC’s new additions to its singles and doubles lineups must adapt fast.

Good thing, then, that Rabman’s performance in UNC’s 7-0 victory over Syracuse on Sunday showed how flexible the first-year is in play style and attitude.

Take Rabman’s doubles outing with Tran as an example. Head coach Brian Kalbas challenged the duo to be more aggressive after Saturday’s matchup against Boston College, in which Kalbas said Rabman and Tran were too reactive.

Part of playing more aggressively is mixing up plays. Sometimes, when the coaches wanted to give Syracuse a different look, they’d instruct Rabman and Tran to deploy the Australian formation when serving. Instead of one player on the right side and the other on the left, both players are on the same side.

Tran said she hates the Australian. Rabman, however, was excited to play the formation and told Tran, “We got this.” Tran and Rabman went on to sweep their opponents 6-0.

“She’s leading the senior out there,” Tran said.

Rabman also brought her positivity to singles play. Up 5-0 against Constance Levivier in the first set, Rabman lost the next four games. At 5-4, all momentum was with Levivier.

But Kalbas has seen Rabman in tougher situations. Competing at Florida State on Feb. 23, Rabman was down 5-1 in the first set. She came back to win the set and take the second set 6-2.

So when Rabman held her own to beat Levivier 6-4 in the first set and 6-2 in the second, it was merely déjà vu for Kalbas.

“She [does] a really good job of being able to forget what's happened in the past and just staying focused,” he said.

Rabman credited assistant coach Hayley Carter for helping her calm down in the first set. Fellow first-year Tatum Evans, playing on the court next to Rabman, also helped. The two became close traveling on junior tennis tours.

“When me and Tatum run to each other and high five each other, I'm screaming ‘Go Tatum,’ she’s screaming right back ‘Go Thea,’” Rabman said. “I feel like it’s just good energy all around.”

That’s been the one big adjustment Rabman said she has had to make at UNC: getting loud for her teammates. She said it’s not something players normally do at the junior level.

“I think that's been a challenge, but it’s so much fun, and I love getting loud with this team.”

@dmtwumasi

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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