The record-setting 2013-2014 season for the national runner-up Carolina women’s tennis team has come to close, but with a youthful squad and an infusion of fresh incoming talent, the Tar Heels have a bright future.
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Head Coach Brian Kalbas cannot say enough positive things about the milestones recorded by his Tar Heels this season. And who can blame him? Carolina completed the NCAA Tournament run of its life.
“We had never beaten Stanford in our program’s history. They were defending champions. To beat Stanford the way we did it, was really monumental for our program. Getting to the finals was a first for us. When you look back on it, it was a truly special run to the finals for our team,” Coach Kalbas Says.
But Coach Kalbas knew he had the makings of a special team way back last fall. He says it just took the team a while to mesh and find its identity.
“I knew we had, especially at the beginning of the year, we had the ingredients of a special team. You just didn’t know when it was going to come together. I think it took a while for our team to find the niche between a talented freshman class and a senior class that had come through for us in the past,” Coach Kalbas says.
Once all the players grew comfortable in their positions on the squad and the team dynamics were settled, Carolina locked in and suddenly had the makings of a national championship contender. Coach Kalbas credits the late season surge to the spike in play at the bottom of the singles lineup from senior warriors like Tessa Lyons.
“At the end of the year, when it really mattered, the depth was a strength of ours – winning at No. 5 and No. 6 against UCLA. Every point in the NCAA Sweet 16, quarters, semis – we won some big matches at the bottom of our lineup,” Coach Kalbas says.
Carolina’s freshman sensation, Jamie Loeb, who was named the ITA’s top singles player of the year Wednesday, finished with a dominant 53-4 record this season.
But what’s even scarier for future Loeb opponents is that Coach Kalbas believes there are “a lot” of areas in her game that can improve.
“I think there is still a lot of motivation. She’s the kind of person that always wants to get better. There are a lot of areas in her game to get better. As a coaching staff and program, we feel we can do a lot of those things to make her a more complete player. That’s what’s really special about her -she has room to improve and has the desire and work ethic to do it,” Coach Kalbas says.
A strong incoming recruiting class, ranked No. 6 by TennisRecruiting.net, should only further enhance Carolina’s depth. Coach Kalbas says the program is on the upward swing.
“When you bring in those kinds of players with those kinds of aspirations, you have a strong, quality work ethic and professionalism like Jamie [Loeb] and Hayley [Carter] have given to our program this year. It’s really exciting what’s happening with our program right now,” Coach Kalbas says.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a summer of rehabilitation, regrouping and competition. Whitney Kay and Caroline Price are nursing some nagging injuries while Loeb is aiming to improve her ranking on the professional circuit.
But when the Tar Heels reconvene in the fall, Coach Kalbas and the Tar Heels will be primed to take it one step further in 2015 by hoisting up a national championship trophy.
“They can get back to 100 percent, physically. We can really build towards a strong year next year,” Coach Kalbas says.