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Lineup changes help UNC women's tennis cruise to third round of NCAA tournament

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UNC senior Reilly Tran strikes the ball during the first-round singles match of the NCAA tournament against Navy at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 3, 2024. UNC won 4-0.

Earlier this season, senior Fiona Crawley had a request for head coach Brian Kalbas. 

She wanted Kalbas to move senior Elizabeth Scotty up to the team’s No. 1 seed in singles to take her spot at the top of the lineup. Crawley ended the 2023 season ranked No. 1 in the nation and currently ranks No. 6. She has played 13 times on court one this season. 

But Crawley wanted a change. 

“[Scotty’s] been a rock for us all year,” Kalbas said. “You can count wherever we put her, she’s up to the task. She’s just really gotten so much better. She’s such a team player and loves the team aspect. She’d run through a wall for the team.”

Finally, in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Crawley got her wish. Over the weekend, No. 4-seeded North Carolina advanced to the third round of the tournament after posting 4-0 wins over Navy and Wisconsin. The Tar Heels boasted experienced doubles pairings and a different singles lineup to kickoff their quest for back-to-back championship titles.

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The UNC women’s team huddles after successfully scoring the doubles point during the first-round match of the NCAA tournament against Navy at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 3, 2024. UNC won 4-0.

When UNC debuted the adjusted singles lineup on Friday, Kalbas hoped to give Scotty a boost of confidence and take pressure off Crawley. He added that Scotty’s consistent and offensive game style allows her to make the step up. 

And on Saturday, Scotty earned North Carolina its first singles point with a dominant 6-3, 6-1 victory over Wisconsin’s Maria Sholokhova. According to Kalbas, the senior did not give up any easy points, dictated games by moving Sholokhova around the court and handled the pace when it became hard to control. 

Crawley said she never had to give Scotty any advice about moving up the lineup — Scotty doesn’t need it. In fact, the relationship is the complete opposite. It’s Crawley's seasoned teammate that taught her everything she knows about tennis. 

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UNC senior Elizabeth Scotty celebrates winning a game during the second-round doubles match of the NCAA tournament against Wisconsin at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Saturday, May 4, 2024. UNC won 4-0.

“I have asked her to be my coach when I graduate and play pro,” Crawley said

And for Crawley, she loves to play at the No. 2 seed. The change is easy. After all, lineup changes worked last year. UNC swapped Crawley and now-sophomore Reese Brantmeier at the first two slots of the lineup in its pursuit of the program’s first-ever national championship. 

In the first and second round matches, Crawley earned both match-clinching singles victories at her new position. 

“[Crawley] goes out there and plays and plays and plays,” Kalbas said. “[She] doesn’t worry about who she’s playing or what number she’s playing. She’s a great competitor, very unselfish [and she] cares about the team more than herself.” 

While some things changed about North Carolina’s lineups during the weekend, other aspects stayed the same. 

Kalbas opted to maintain the same doubles pairings from the ACC Tournament: Crawley and junior Carson Tanguilig on court one, Scotty and senior Anika Yarlagadda on court two and senior Reilly Tran and graduate student Abbey Forbes on three. For Kalbas, not only are these doubles pairings the most experienced, but the duos also have good chemistry and their personalities gel. 

“Experience definitely helps,” Tanguilig said. “We’ve played [with] them probably the most, and I think each partner and each team together know each other the best out of all the pairings that we’ve tried.” 

For Crawley, she’s happy to still be playing alongside Tanguilig. It’s when she has the most fun. 

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UNC junior Carson Tanguilig swings to strike the ball during the first-round doubles match of the NCAA tournament against Navy at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 3, 2024. UNC won 4-0.

“I almost feel like we’re telepathic,” she said. “The first time we played doubles, we just clicked. We moved together so well — her at the net and me at the baseline. It’s literally just so fun. She makes me laugh, and I feel like it just puts me in the best head space before singles.” 

While UNC can change its doubles teams and test a new singles lineup during the third round on Friday, North Carolina has shown the depth of its roster and the strength of change. Now, the Tar Heels are focused on riding the momentum of the ACC Championship and this weekend’s victories, trusting themselves and maintaining their confidence. 

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“[We’re] keeping the energy moving forward,” Tanguilig said. “[We’re] testing all the work that we put in this year and all the adversity we’ve been through and bringing that experience into the tournament.” 

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UNC seniors Anika Yarlagadda and Elizabeth Scotty embrace after winning their doubles match during the second-round match of the NCAA tournament against Wisconsin at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Saturday, May 4, 2024. UNC won 4-0.

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com