2023 NCAA Championships: 'Special' UNC team wins its first-ever D1 women's team title

Victoria Chiesa | May 20, 2023

A dream two decades in the making for head coach Brian Kalbas and the University of North Carolina women's tennis team was finally realized on Saturday night at the USTA National Campus in Orlando: With a 4-1 win over in-state rival North Carolina State University, the Tar Heels won their first-ever team national championship.


Kalbas, in his 20th season, had previously led the team to the national final in 2014, and five other semifinals, but never to the golden trophy despite winning seven Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships in his tenure. After ascending to the No. 1 national ranking on Feb. 15, the Tar Heels never budged,  


"When I first came to Carolina, my dream was to be a part of the national championship club," Kalbas said after the match. "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.


"I want to thank all the other teams that we've had because they deserve it as well. We had so many alumni here, so many fans, so many friends and family members. It's just really amazing to see where our program started and where it is right now. I'm just really happy for our team to do this in the way we did it.


"It just seems there's a lot of history for us. We call it the Jordan year, you know, 2023. Everything, the stars seemed to be aligning and being back in Orlando with all divisions here, and just so many fans and support, it was really special. I can't pinpoint it. There's been other years where I felt that we had a chance to really break through. But this year, this team really just wanted it and was willing to just go for it and not just think [it]."

For the first time since the tournament began in 1982, two Atlantic Coast Conference teams were playing for the national title, and the two powerhouse programs didn't disappoint in their rubber match—a third overall meeting between the two teams in 44 days. The top-ranked Tar Heels were 7-0 winners against the Wolfpack in the regular season on April 6, but got their revenge for postseason player after losing 4-1 in last month's ACC Championship. 


After North Carolina won the doubles point thanks to a 6-4 victory for Reese Brantmeier and Reilly Tran at No. 3 to decide things, the key to the match came in singles—and only after NC State's top player Diana Shnaider, playing in her last collegiate dual match before she heads to Paris to play in Roland Garros in two weeks, beat Brantmeier at No. 1 singles 6-3, 6-4 to level the match at 1-1. 

Though NC State won the opening set at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, straight-sets wins for junior Fiona Crawley, the top-ranked individual player for much of the season, at No. 2, and senior Elizabeth Scotty at No. 5 singles that put the Tar Heels on the brink of history—which was duly realized when sophomore Carson Tanguilig finished off Amelia Rajecki at No. 3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.


"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. "But it's just like, I can't describe it. Kind of like coach, I'm a little bit speechless. It's just what we've been working for all year.


"I have never been a part of a closer team. I mean, I've only been here two years, but these girls are my best friends and I think our closeness definitely helped us today and our edge and our willingness to change things up a little bit when necessary as a team. It just means the world to me, and we got the big one finally."


Kalbas also credited his team's fighting spirit in the face of renewed determination from NC State in the second half of the match. Crawley won a deuce point at 6-5 in the second set of her 6-2, 7-6(2) win; Scotty saved four set points in a first-set tiebreak in the match she eventually won 7-6(7), 6-3; and while Tran and Anika Yarlagadda didn't finish their matches at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, respectively, they came from big deficits to extend things and put their team in a position to win: Tran trailed 6-4, 5-1 against Sophie Abrams, and Yarlagadda 6-3, 4-1 against Gina Dittmann.


"We kept telling them, ‘There's no finish line,’ and we knew that the matches were going to get longer, that they were going to get tougher," he said. "As the match went along, you could see our team getting tougher. At five and six, it was amazing what they could do to extend those matches. What you saw with Scotty with that tiebreaker and Carson, that match was … I mean, Rajecki was playing so well. Her forehand was on fire.


"It was just amazing to see how we finished strong, and that's fitting. We talked this whole tournament and year about being us, and this match was us."


For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit's news landing page for the event.

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