North Carolina women take 46-match win streak to Orlando NCAA Championships
The North Carolina women were a perfect 18-0 last spring when the COVID pandemic shut down the 2020 NCAA tennis season. The abrupt end was a bitter blow for the program, particularly the three UNC seniors who have formed the bedrock of the Chapel Hill outfit—Sara Daavettila, Alexa Graham and Makenna Jones.
But the NCAA’s decision to grant student-athletes an extra year of eligibility provided an opportunity for the Tar Heels to complete some unfinished business. Fourteen months, a second straight ITA National Indoors title, an ACC championship and 28 dual-match wins later, the nation’s No. 1 team is four matches away from finishing the job at the NCAA Championships. Along the way, their two-season, 46-match winning streak has shattered the previous school record of 27.
This year, 18-year head coach Brian Kalbas has a deeper team than ever before. In addition to returning the full 10-player roster from last spring, Kalbas signed three top-rated freshman on scholarships for this season—with both Fiona Crawley and Reilly Tran already notching wins in the first two rounds of the NCAAs.
“We’ve hardly had the same lineup throughout the season. Being able to switch people in has been fantastic,” said Daavettila, who is ranked No. 2 in the ITA’s individual singles and doubles (with junior Cameron Morra) rankings.
No matter the lineup, the Tar Heels have been dominant in their victories this spring, with Georgia (in January) and Texas (in February’s ITA Indoors final) providing their toughest matches in a pair of 4-3 results.
“Coach has done a great job of handling it with 13 girls,” the senior continued. “Our practices have all been very productive and he's made them fun at the same time. He’s done a fantastic job making sure that we're all getting attention and we're all getting better.”
It’s the trio of seniors who anchor the team, though—a group that has been together since Day 1 at the UNC campus, with Daavettila and Jones sharing a dorm freshman year. This year, all three live together.
“It only seems right to finish this together, living together,” Daavettila said.
“They're two very special people,” she said of her fellow fifth-year seniors, “and I couldn't be more blessed or lucky to have had them in this class and to be able to do this with them. I don't know what I would have done without them. We've really been through it all together.”
Aside from a chance to lead UNC to its first NCAA title (the Tar Heels were finalists in 2014), the seniors have enjoyed the opportunity to close out their collegiate careers with traditional events like a senior banquet and a senior day, during which they notched a 6-1 win over NC State,
“I’ll remember that match forever,” Daavettila reflected, “because it was just so special to be able to experience that with my family here, and my fellow seniors, my teammates, my coaches, and our fans that have been with us for so long.”
Now, the Tar Heels are excited to make more memories at the USTA National Campus, with the NCAA title in sight. In 2019, when the Campus hosted the NCAAs for the first time, Carolina reached the semifinals, while Morra reached the individual singles semis.
“I love the National Campus,” said Daavettila. “It's a beautiful place. I remember them running it with such professionalism last time we were there, and we just had the best time.
“We're very excited to make it there and to see what we can do. It would be so special to end with the team title and bring that back to Chapel Hill.”
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