STANFORD, Calif. — No. 4 North Carolina advanced to the national quarterfinals for the fourth time in school history as the Tar Heels defeated Vanderbilt 4-0 in the third round of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships. Carolina rallied for a stunning win in doubles before getting singles victories from Gina Suarez-Malaguti, Tessa Lyons and Shinann Featherston to earn a date with No. 5 Baylor in Sunday’s quarters.
Carolina (26-5) traded doubles wins with Vanderbilt (17-9) at the top two positions before staging a dramatic comeback to steal the point. Vandy’s Chelsea Preeg and Jackie Wu defeated Lyons and Jelena Durisic 8-4 on court two before No. 7 Featherston and Lauren McHale topped No. 36 Rachael Dillon and Alex Leatu by the same score on court one.
Things looked bleak for the Tar Heels on court three, as Commodores Lauren Mira and Keilly Ulery jumped out to a 7-2 lead on the Carolina tandem of Suarez-Malaguti and Zoe De Bruycker. But the sophomore duo somehow righted the ship and ran off six consecutive games to take an 8-7 lead.
Mira and Ulery held at 7-8 to force a tiebreak and had a chance to serve out the match with a 5-4 lead in the tiebreak. But Suarez-Malaguti and De Bruycker won both points on the Vandy serve and converted their first match point of the day to win, 9-8 (5), and clinch the doubles point for the Tar Heels.
With the top three singles matches all featuring first-set tiebreaks, Carolina flexed its muscles at the bottom of the lineup to maintain the momentum of the dramatic doubles win.
Suarez-Malaguti made it 2-0 in favor of UNC with her 6-2, 6-1 victory against Ulery on court five and, less than five minutes later, Lyons finished off Dillon 6-3, 6-2, to give Carolina a 3-0 advantage.
Despite losing all three first-set tiebreaks on courts one through three, Vanderbilt continued to battle and built second-set leads on courts one and two with No. 66 Leatu and Wu.
But the Commodores could only hold off the fourth-seeded Tar Heels for so long. Ultimately it was Featherston – the junior captain who had clinched wins in the final two matches of the ACC title run in addition to several others throughout the season – who put Carolina into the quarters with a 7-6 (3), 6-2 win on court three versus No. 88 Preeg.
“We haven’t seen (Vanderbilt) before but we knew they were a very good team,” UNC head coach Brian Kalbas said after the match. “We got off to a bit of a slow start in doubles but fought back and got some momentum going into singles. We won (five) first sets and a lot of tiebreakers. It might have looked like and easy match but it wasn’t.”
The victory comes nine years after the Tar Heels’ last win at this facility, when Carolina advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time with a 4-1 win against Arizona State in 2002.
Sunday will mark UNC’s fourth appearance in the national quarterfinals and the second in as many years under Kalbas, who has led the Tar Heels into the final eight three times. In addition to his three appearances at Carolina, Kalbas also steered his William & Mary squads into the NCAA quarters on two occasions.
Friday’s win matched the 1982 (26-14) and 2006 (26-7) teams for the third-most wins in school history. Last season’s national semifinalists established a new program mark with 30 victories, eclipsing the 1980 squad’s 28-6 mark.
Sunday’s meeting with Baylor will feature the top two seeds from the 2010 event. Baylor, the No. 1 seed a year ago, was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Stanford, while the second-seeded Tar Heels were ousted by runner-up Florida.
The two teams met twice a year ago – Carolina scored a 5-2 win in the quarterfinals of the ITA National Indoor Championships in Madison, Wis., while the Lady Bears came out on top a month later in Waco, Texas 4-3.