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Top-10 Tobacco Road clash: Duke women's tennis takes on No. 4 Tar Heels

<p>Cary, N.C., native Kaitlyn McCarthy will get her first taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry when the freshman squares off against the No. 4 Tar Heels Tuesday afternoon.</p>

Cary, N.C., native Kaitlyn McCarthy will get her first taste of the Tobacco Road rivalry when the freshman squares off against the No. 4 Tar Heels Tuesday afternoon.

In the last regular-season Duke-North Carolina matchup of her Blue Devil career, senior Beatrice Capra will battle the top-ranked tennis player in the country.

Now fully adapted to the leadership position she stepped into at the beginning of the year as the only senior on a squad mostly consisting of underclassmen, Capra is up for the challenge.

With all eyes on the Ellicot City, Md., native, No. 10 Duke will face Tobacco Road rival No. 4 North Carolina Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Amber Tennis Stadium. After beating then-No. 14 Wake Forest on the road Saturday, the Blue Devils will continue their stiff 11-day stretch, with matches still left to be played against the Tar Heels, No. 12 Virginia and No. 9 Michigan.

“[The Duke-UNC rivalry] is intense and it’s fun and it’s one of the reasons why these girls come here—to be able to play matches like that,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “Obviously, you have the added factor of playing UNC so we don’t have to do a lot of hyping up the match to our team. When UNC is at its best, it’s a very emotional team. We have to go out there and not let them knock us on our ‘heels,’ I would say, not let them knock us backwards emotionally.”

In what promises to be a highly charged environment, the Blue Devils (13-2, 6-1 in the ACC) will need to set the tone by securing the all-important doubles point if they want to defeat a Tar Heel squad that is unbeaten in conference action.

With a team-best 14 victories so far this season, the 14th-ranked tandem of Capra and freshman Ellyse Hamlin will open doubles action against the top-ranked duo of Hayley Carter and Whitney Kay on court one. Sophomore Samantha Harris and freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy will look to capture their fourth consecutive victory when they hit court two against North Carolina’s Jessie Aney and Kate Vialle, with the Tar Heels (19-2, 7-0) trotting out Ashley Dai and Chloe Ouellet-Pizer to compete against Duke’s duo of juniors Chalena Scholl and Alyssa Smith—who have posted 11 wins this season–on the third doubles court.

The Blue Devils claimed the doubles point on the road Saturday against the Demon Deacons and used that early momentum to pick up a comfortable 6-1 win, despite falling behind quickly on most of the singles courts.

“Getting a win [against Wake Forest] to start off this stretch was big and especially how we did it—losing four first sets down at the beginning of that match,” Ashworth said. “We have a resilient group and it was good for us to face a little adversity and know that we can overcome [it] in the middle of a match.”

Following doubles play, No. 28 Capra—who owns an 8-4 singles record—will take on the top-ranked Carter on court one in a match that could go down to the wire. No. 92 Scholl—who has spent time on courts one, two and three this season—will look to continue shining at home against No. 29 Kay and extend her seven-match winning streak. 

The Blue Devils will also have three players new to the in-state rivalry. No. 35 McCarthy is projected to match up with North Carolina’s No. 53 Aney, while freshman Christina Makarova will eye her fifth conference victory of the season on court six.

“I’m from North Carolina so I grew up around the rivalry,” McCarthy said. “I’m so excited. It’s going to be crazy. I’m expecting a lot of people. It’s going to be loud, hopefully super emotional and fun. Mainly, I just want to compete and play my best.”

No. 78 Hamlin fell 5-7, 4-6 to Wake Forest’s Luisa Hernández 7-5, 6-4 Saturday but will likely make her Tobacco Road rivalry debut Tuesday.

The young Blue Devils will look to send their senior leader out with a win against a Tar Heel team that has spent much of the season near the top of the ITA rankings. 

“[Capra] has done a great job leading this team as the only senior and she has set a great example on the team,” McCarthy said. “She’s been a strong player and she’s been there for everyone and she has also taken care of her business, which is great to see.” 


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