The 24-5 North Carolina women’s tennis team has challenged itself with top-flight competition all year. Now, Head Coach Brian Kalbas and the Tar Heels are hoping it pays off with a deep NCAA Tournament run.

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The Tar Heel women have been serving up a storm all season long, but Coach Kalbas says he’s seen a lift in intensity since the loss to rival Duke in the ACC Tournament.

“We’ve had our most energetic time period from ACC to now through exams. Our team is really excited to host a regional,” Coach Kalbas says.

Despite the impressive record, Coach Kalbas says he was not expecting a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We all got together for the selection show. I was really shocked that we got moved up to a seven seed,” Coach Kalbas says.

In hindsight, however, Coach Kalbas says it’s the strength of schedule that earned Carolina such a high national placement.

“I think the fact that we played such a tough schedule benefited us in the seedings. We beat the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed Georgia and the No. 3 seed Virginia. We try to play the toughest schedule possible. For us, we want to be playing our best tennis at the end of the year,” Coach Kalbas says.

The Tar Heels faced off with 13 teams that will compete in the NCAA Tournament this year. UNC finished with an 11-5 record in those matches including wins against eight of the 16 teams that grabbed national seeds.

The battle-tested Tar Heels will need to be on their A-game Friday at 1 p.m. when they meet 12-9 VCU in the first round. Coach Kalbas says the bracket gods didn’t deal his team any favors with the experienced Rams coming to Chapel Hill.

“Every time they’ve [VCU] made the NCAA Tournament, they’ve never been a four seed. They’ve always been either a two or three seed,” Coach Kalbas says.

There is no doubt the Tar Heels will lean heavily on their top two singles players. Jamie Loeb lands atop the national singles rankings while her teammate Hayley Carter is not too far behind at No. 5.

But Coach Kalbas says others will need to contribute if Carolina plans to be around in the latter rounds of the postseason.

“We’ve been really reliant on our top two players. Our top two freshmen have been outstanding. For us to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, we’re going to need other players to step up,” Coach Kalbas says.

Carolina will be hosting a regional for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons. 13-12 Tennessee and 12-8 Georgia State will be joining the action on the courts at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center this weekend.

Coach Kalbas says he suspects his Tar Heels will be meeting a team decked out in orange in the second round.

“I expect Tennessee to win that match, and if we happen to move on, give us a really strong challenge,” Coach Kalbas says.