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North Carolina women's tennis wins first-ever NCAA Division I national title
The top-ranked Tar Heels beat NC State, 4-1, in Saturday's final.
Published May 22, 2023
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ORLANDO — Top-ranked University of North Carolina became just the 10th Division I women’s tennis program to win a team national championship, dispatching third-ranked North Carolina State 4-1 in just over three hours on Saturday at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
Having won four consecutive ITA Indoor Team National Championships, the outdoor title in May had still eluded the Tar Heels until Saturday evening.
"When I first came to Carolina, my dream was to be a part of the national championship club," head coach Brian Kalbas said in his post-match presser. "We won seven indoor titles and we've never won this one. It just was very elusive. For it to be this year, with this team, means the world for me personally, because I know we've had great teams in the past and every team, every year, kind of led to this year.”
The NCAA tournament began with 64 teams two weeks ago and in the end, it came down to conference foes who are located less than 30 minutes apart from one another.
The teams split their two meetings earlier this season, with North Carolina taking a victory at home in Chapel Hill during the regular season and NC State handing the Tar Heels their lone loss of the season in the ACC Tournament final. Both teams had dropped just three points each in the five NCAA tournament matches leading up to the final, setting up an exciting end to the trilogy.
One of the biggest storylines this season was the appearance of Diana Shnaider in Raleigh, the first woman since Lisa Raymond in 1993 to play college tennis while ranked in the Top 100 of the WTA rankings.
The 19-year-old did not disappoint this week on the biggest stage, losing just one game combined in the quarterfinals and semifinals before picking up a 6-3 6-4 win over Reese Brantmeier in the championship to give NC State their lone point of the evening. Overall, the current world No. 104 amassed records of 20-3 in singles and 18-2 in doubles this spring including 23 straight sets won in singles dating back to April 9.
In Division I college tennis, there are seven points up for grabs between both teams. Three doubles matches are played for the opportunity to earn one point, while each of the six singles matches are worth one point. The first team to four points wins the dual match.
After losing the doubles point last month against the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels made changes to all three of their doubles teams and it paid off massively for them tonight. Earning wins at the number two and three spots to grab the doubles point, North Carolina took a pivotal 1-0 lead to start the final.
NC State followed up with the win from Shnaider at the top singles spot as she defeated an also highly touted freshman in Brantmeier, the top-rated American recruit in the class of 2022.
NC State looked to be going up 3-1 shortly after, holding a 6-4, 5-1 lead at the No. 5 spot and a 6-3 4-1 lead at the No. 6 spot, however North Carolina battled back to win the second set on both courts to force deciders in matches that eventually would remain unfinished.
Meanwhile, the nation’s top-ranked Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) singles player Fiona Crawley gave North Carolina a 2-1 lead with her 6-2, 7-6(2) win at the No.2 spot over Alana Smith. Smith saved four match points on her serve at 4-5, 0-40 and also had a set point of her own at 6-5 40-40, but was not able to force a third set.
North Carolina shortly after picked up two consecutive wins, with Elizabeth Scotty coming out on top at the No. 4 spot with a 7-6(7) 6-3 win after she erased a 6-3 deficit in the first-set tiebreak.
The clincher of the match, sophomore Carson Tanguilig, lost a 6-4, 3-0 lead at the No. 3 spot, but held on for the crucial 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win to make history live on Tennis Channel.
"It's so surreal, honestly, I don't think that I believed that I won the match when I did, and I don't remember that match point at all." Tanguilig said. "People are sending me videos and I don’t remember that at all. But it's just like, I can't describe it. Kind of like coach (Kalbas), I'm a little bit speechless. It's just what we've been working for all year.”
The head coaches of both programs share special relationships with their right-hand men. Kalbas and Tyler Thomson spent four years together as head coach and assistant coach from 1997 to 2001 at William & Mary, before Thomson joined Kalbas’s staff as an associate head coach at North Carolina in 2018 to reunite the duo.
On the other side of town, head coach Simon Earnshaw coached David Secker at Division II Armstrong Atlantic State for four years and then Secker stayed in the program for six more seasons as Earnshaw’s assistant coach until 2012. Secker then reunited with his mentor in 2017 as NC State's new assistant coach after a season in which the Wolfpack finished at No. 26 in the rankings, their highest ranking in program history at the time.
The season is not quite over for some players as the NCAA singles and doubles individual tournaments begin on Monday, with players competing in the NCAA team final receiving a day off for the first time. Winners of both singles and doubles are granted main-draw wild cards into the US Open, if they represent the United States.