It was a different type of court than the schools are most famous for battling on, but North Carolina and Duke did battle on the tennis court Wednesday night in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament. Duke briefly looked like they might come up with a win, taking a lead in several matches, but the Tar Heels eventually turned things around and came away with a 4-1 to advance to the Final Four.
The format of the NCAA Team Tennis Tournament is this: which ever team wins two of three doubles matches gets a point. There are then six singles matches each worth a point. Whatever team wins four points first wins the match. So, a 4-1 margin is nearly as good as it could get. It’s also a closer margin than UNC had won by in previous rounds.
In their three previous rounds to get to the quarterfinal matchup against Duke, Carolina beat South Carolina State, Old Dominion, and #16 overall seed Cal all 4-0. In all of those previous rounds, the Heels also swept all of the doubles matches, meaning Duke was the first time UNC had lost any match in their NCAA Tournament run.
That is an extremely impressive feat, but UNC’s entire tennis season has been an impressive feat. Carolina will go into their Final Four matchup against Pepperdine with a record of 30-0. Back in February, they won the ITA National Indoor Team Championship, beating the Pepperdine team they’ll face tonight along the way. Only two teams, Georgia and Texas, have even gotten within a point of beating the Heels, with UNC eventually beating both 4-3.
The Heels have been able to do this by just being unbelievably deep. Five team members were good enough to qualify for the individual singles championship that will take part after the team championships conclude. Headlining that group of five is Sara Daavettila, who will be the #1 overall seed in the individual singles tournament. Besides her, Fiona Crawley, Alexa Graham, Makenna Jones, Cameron Morra will all compete in the 64-person singles championship.
On the doubles side, UNC also qualified two teams into that championship tournament. Daavettila and Morra will team up to be the #2 overall seed in the doubles tournament, while a team of Jones and Elizabeth Scotty will also take part.
The depth goes beyond all of them too. Carolina used 12 different players in singles matches throughout the season. Ten of them finished with a winning record, including Crawley, who is currently undefeated, playing mostly as UNC’s #4 or #5 player.
UNC’s final four matchup against Pepperdine will take place tonight at 5:30 PM ET. As mentioned, they beat the Waves back in February in the indoor championships. They won that matchup 4-1 by winning the double points and adding singles wins from Crawley, Morra, and Jones. You can watch the matchup against Pepperdine live on the Tennis Channel.
If UNC advances past Pepperdine, they would take on the winner of #2 Texas and #6 NC State. The Heels beat them both during the regular season, but the Longhorns did give them a scare. Texas has also put up the same combined winning margin as UNC, beating Denver, Arizona State, #15 Ohio State, and #7 Florida State by a combined 16-1 to make the Final Four.
If they do bring home the championship, it would be women’s tennis’ first NCAA championship. They’ve won the aforementioned ITA indoor championship several times, but that one is not awarded by the NCAA. Winning this one would add a new title to the vast array of championships won by the UNC athletic department. Best of luck!