Last season, North Carolina took two of the three matches against the Blue Devils. Once again, the crosstown rivals faced off for the second time before the conclusion of the regular season.
The top-ranked Tar Heels replicated their success from last month’s victory with a 4-1 win against Duke Wednesday afternoon at the Cone-Kenfield Center in Chapel Hill. After dropping the doubles point, the Blue Devils were only able to close out one singles match in the win column with two close matches left unfinished.
“We get so few opportunities in the year against teams ranked higher than us. So far this year when we’ve had those two opportunities, we haven’t done a great job of being at our best,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth told GoDuke.com. “There’s a good chance we’ll play them again in six weeks…. There’s no reason why we can’t beat a team like this.”
After tinkering with the doubles lineup for the past few matches, the third-ranked Blue Devils (10-2, 3-1 in the ACC) mixed it up once again as sophomore Hannah Zhao stepped into the lineup, replacing freshman Maria Mateas.
The senior duo of No. 24 Kaitlyn McCarthy and Ellyse Hamlin fell to North Carolina’s Jessie Aney and Alexa Graham 2-6 at the top of the lineup. On court three, Zhao and classmate Kelly Chen lost to Sara Daavettila and Alle Sanford by the same score to clinch the first point of the dual match for the home team.
Junior Meible Chi and freshman Margaryta Bilokin were down 2-4 to No. 5 Makenna Jones and Cameron Morra before the match was stopped short due to the Tar Heel clinching victory.
“Our doubles was not very good at all. It was way too quick. Not one match were we in,” Ashworth said. “We were just on the defensive and didn’t really stick to our game plans very much.”
With the quick 0-1 hole, the Blue Devils needed a quick win to get even up the scoreboard. That victory came from Hamlin. The Fairfield, Conn., native only gave up one game against Sanford. The senior is now 10-1 in singles this spring.
But after Hamlin, Duke only won one other set the entire match as the next three matches all went in the Tar Heels’ favor in straight sets.
“I think the momentum of the doubles carried a little into the singles. As of today, they are a better team than we are. They’ve beaten us twice pretty good now,” Ashworth said.
After No. 14 Daavettila won the first two games, No. 16 Chi bounced back to even the score at 2-2 before she eventually lost the close first set 4-6. After Daavettila got some separation to open the second set, she cruised to win the second frame 6-0 to put her team in the lead once again from court three.
Kaitlyn McCarthy lost the opening set 2-6, but regrouped in the second frame before she eventually lost 5-7 to No. 20 Morra.
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On court five, Bilokin went down 3-4 in the first set before she took the next five games to win the first set and gain a 2-0 second set lead. Aney went on to win the next three games and six of the next seven to send the match to a final third set. The North Carolina senior ended up clinching the dual match with a 6-2 third-set victory.
As a result of Aney’s victory at the sixth singles position, the top two courts were left unfinished. Ashworth switched up the lineup for this match as he placed No. 23 Chen ahead of No. 18 Mateas for the first time this season.
Chen lost her first set against No. 5 Jones in a tiebreaker 7-5 after the Blue Devil sophomore took the first three games of the match. Jones led 5-4 when the rivalry match concluded.
Over on the second court, Mateas went in down a 1-3 hole before she tied the set at 3 apiece. No. 6 Graham went on to take the opening set 6-4 and the two players split the first 12 games of the second set. Mateas led the tiebreaker 1-0 when the match was left unfinished.
“I told our girls afterwards that they have to learn from it,” Ashworth said. “They have to play with no fear and have to be better about laying it on the line.”
After their second loss of the season to the Tar Heels (17-1, 5-0), the Blue Devils will likely not matchup against until the ACC tournament championship in April if both top-tier ACC teams advance that far.
But before Duke could look to get back in the ACC win column, it will travel south to USTA National Campus. Down in Orlando, Fla., the Blue Devils will face off against No. 22 Michigan March 9 at 12 p.m. as part of 2019 Collegiate Series.
This match will be second ever college match with the PlayFair Challenge System using PlaySight SmartCourt technology. The technology was first introduced when Texas and Mississippi State men’s tennis teams played back in January. Each player received three challenges per set. In that first dual match, eight challenges were used, but only one point was overturned.
“We have an opportunity in three days to play a very, very good Michigan team. We have to do better with the intangible stuff,” Ashworth said. “It’s a choice they all have to make. We can only do so much. We can only prepare them so much and we need to make sure on Saturday we make the right choices.”