The seventh-seeded North Carolina women’s tennis team battled past second-seeded Alabama, claiming a 4-2 win Saturday in Athens, Georgia to advance to the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship Final Four.
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With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 28-5 on the season while the Crimson Tide finished at 25-5 overall.
Freshman Jamie Loeb, the No.1-ranked singles player in the nation, as has become customary, took care of her opponent with ease, dispatching Mary Anne Daines 6-2, 6-3.
But it was Carolina’s No. 2 singles player, Hayley Carter, who ultimately clinched the match with a thrilling three-set win, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Watch Hayley Carter’s match-clinching point by clicking here.
Loeb says the team is aided by a fighting spirit in the ‘win or go home’ format of the NCAA Tournament.
“We showed up with a lot of passion and intensity, I think all of us really wanted it. We had a really good talk. I think that really motivated us,” Loeb says.
Head Coach Brian Kalbas says Tessa Lyons, at the No. 6 singles lot, certainly provided a positive boost to the team when she secured the opening set on her court.
Lyons says although the Tar Heels won an indoor national title last year, getting to the Final Four is its own special accomplishment.
“This is my first ever Final Four. We’ve won an indoor national championship, but this is a big prize,” Lyons says.
Carolina has earned a trip back to the Final Four for the first time since 2010. This year, they’ll be facing defending champion and eleventh-seeded Stanford on Monday at 1 p.m. The Cardinal sport a 20-2 record and are coming off an upset victory over the third-seeded Virginia Cavaliers.
The other national semifinal will pit two storied college tennis programs against each other as No. 4 UCLA meets No. 8 Florida.
One of the biggest storylines of Monday’s UNC-Stanford showdown will be on court one, where No.1 will meet No. 3. The singles match between No. 1 Loeb and No. 3 Kristie Ahn has the potential to set the tone for the day’s play. Ahn will be hoping to exact some revenge on Loeb this time around as the Carolina freshman took the pair’s only meeting last October.
Loeb will anchor the Tar Heel lineup with her trademark competitiveness and grit that few players have the tenacity to match. She says she’s learned to handle the pressure of being the player to beat every time she steps out onto the court.
“I’m used to playing under pressure. I just go out there and do what I need to do. I can’t really control certain things, but I just try to focus on myself and getting the job done,” Loeb says.
Despite the impressive run, Lyons says her team still has work left to do, especially with the defending champions next on deck. She fully expects another competitive fight.
“We can’t really celebrate. We got another match to play. We got to move on to the next match and get ready. I know it will be even tougher,” Lyons says.
Although Carolina comes into the Final Four with the least experience of the four programs, Coach Kalbas believes the doubles point could be the deciding factor. And that’s a specialty for the Tar Heels, who’ve only dropped four doubles points all year in 33 dual matches.