The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, May 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's tennis NCAA tournament run ends after falling to Texas A&M

20240510_Skvoretz_WTENNIS-NCAA-R3-Texas-A&M-395.jpg
Teammates console senior Elizabeth Scotty after the team’s loss to Texas A&M during the third-round match of the NCAA tournament at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 10, 2024. UNC lost 4-1.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. 

As the NCAA regional trophies were brought onto the court for a victorious Texas A&M team, North Carolina sat in a tight circle on the opposite side of the net. Gone were the hopes of back-to-back championships. Some cried. Others shared embraces marked by comforting words. A hush fell over Chewning Tennis Center.

Yes, this loss hurts and the season is over, but this isn’t how head coach Brian Kalbas wants this group to be defined. As the initial sting of the loss settles, it’s not these “almosts” or close margins that Kalbas will remember. 

“They did things that no other program had done,” he said. “A lot of players before them kind of paved a way, so these guys will be remembered for making UNC history — national champions, ACC champions, national indoor champions.”

On Friday, No. 4-seeded North Carolina fell to No. 13-seeded Texas A&M, 4-1, in the NCAA Super Regional, ending a six-year win streak at home for the Tar Heels. With a trip to Stillwater, Okla. on the line, a five-hour dogfight ensued, stunted by poorly-timed mistakes and an overpowered UNC team that couldn’t quite finish the comeback. 

20240510_Skvoretz_WTENNIS-NCAA-R3-Texas-A&M-311.jpg
UNC junior Carson Tanguilig strikes the ball during the third-round singles match of the NCAA tournament against Texas A&M at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 10, 2024. UNC lost 4-1.

Even with dreams cut short, Kalbas used two adjectives to describe this UNC team: record-breaking and history-making. After already making its mark on an established UNC program, the Tar Heels still felt like they could contribute more.

North Carolina returned all of last year’s lineup — every single player that brought home the program’s first-ever NCAA national championship. Senior Elizabeth Scotty elected to return for her fifth year and Anika Yarlagadda for her sixth. Last year’s ITA National Player of the Year, Fiona Crawley, wasn’t done either. Neither was senior Reilly Tran.

Graduate student Abbey Forbes not only occasionally lended her singing talent for national anthem performances, but also her doubles prowess. North Carolina only dropped the doubles point three times this year. 

Junior Carson Tanguilig remained a steady hand for the Tar Heels, going 11-4 in singles play and 14-1 in doubles. 

Then, when sophomore Reese Brantmeier’s injury seemingly shifted the trajectory of the team and the Tar Heels had to completely change their plans, first-year Tatum Evans burned her redshirt and joined Thea Rabman as a fresh face. After a three-year drought, it was Evans who finally clinched the ACC Championship title for North Carolina. 

And in the last five years, these players have made their impact on UNC. Four ITA National Team Indoor titles. Three ACC championships. One NCAA national championship. 

“There have been a lot of great players that have come through and teams that have been really close,” Kalbas said. “This team got over the hump last year. This year, with some injuries and some things that didn’t go their way, they battled like crazy, competed and showed that the team over the player — the person over the player — is the most important.” 

The battle on Friday directly reflected the kind of team this is: they fight until the end. Five singles matches and one doubles match went into tiebreaks. 

UNC held a lead on all three doubles courts midway through the sets. Then, it spiraled out of control. While Scotty and Yarlagadda survived a pivotal deuce point to clinch their match, Tran and Forbes dropped four straight games and fell, 6-4. The first team point would be decided by a tiebreak thriller. It didn’t go North Carolina’s way. The Tar Heels were down early, 1-0

20240510_Skvoretz_WTENNIS-NCAA-R3-Texas-A&M-175.jpg
UNC senior Fiona Crawley reaches to strike the ball during the third-round doubles match of the NCAA tournament against Texas A&M at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 10, 2024. UNC lost 4-1.

Even though the match remained an uphill battle, UNC rallied. Rabman evened the score with a straight set victory. For a moment, there was hope. 

But despite winning her first set, Crawley fell in the third. North Carolina down again, 2-1. 

Tanguilig forced a third set, but her comeback came up short. Another point for the Aggies. 

Battling against the nationally-ranked No. 1 singles player, Mary Stoiana, Scotty fought for a tiebreak in the second set. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

After Scotty’s final return landed outside the white lines, the Texas A&M players stormed the Carolina Blue court. Scotty’s hands covered her face. Her shoulders shook and tears flowed. Kalbas wrapped his arms around her. 

20240510_Skvoretz_WTENNIS-NCAA-R3-Texas-A&M-393.jpg
UNC women’s tennis head coach Brian Kalabas consols a visibly upset senior Elizabeth Scotty after her singles match loss and team loss during the third-round match of the NCAA tournament against Texas A&M at Chewning Tennis Center on Friday, May 10, 2024. UNC lost 4-1.

“They’re fighters,” Kalbas said. “They don’t give up. They compete for each other, and they support each other. They just wanted to keep playing. They enjoy being around each other. That’s probably the most frustrating thing for them is that they’re not going to be able to do that.” 

They fight until the end because they want to win for each other. Throughout it all, the Tar Heels on the courts exemplified the connectedness of the group that Kalbas and assistant coach Hayley Carter touted. 

When Crawley’s singles match ended in a heartbreaking loss, Tran left her court to hug her crying teammate. While Tanguilig was rallying for her third set, she paused to give a high-five and words of encouragement to Yarlagadda and Scotty, who were neck-deep in their own tiebreakers and contested matches. 

It’s heartbreaking for Carter to watch the season end like this, but she said the Tar Heels will look back at this team and these seniors with fond memories. 

It is the end of this chapter, but the trajectory of the women’s tennis program has been altered forever.

“We talk a lot about the tradition of Carolina and always trying to build on that, and these guys have built on it like no other,” Carter said. “I think they’ll be like me one day and be looking back at the team of the future and they’ll realize that they helped create that.” 

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com