North Carolina Claims First National Team Title at ITA Women's Indoor Championships
by Colette Lewis
, 15 February 2013
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The University of North Carolina Tar Heels arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia last week for the ITA Women's Team Indoor ranked eighth in the country. They left the Boar's Head Sports Club with wins over No. 4 Southern California, No. 3 Duke, and No. 2 UCLA in successive matches, claiming the program's first national team championship and the No. 1 ranking with a heart-pounding 4-3 victory over the defending champion Bruins.
Seeded No. 6 in the 16-team tournament, due to the absence of top-ranked Florida
and No. 5 Stanford
, North Carolina began its run with 4-0 blanking of No. 13 Texas A&M
. Against No. 3 seed Southern Cal in the quarterfinals, the Tar Heels looked down and out, trailing 3-0 and 4-2 in the final sets of the two matches they had to win, but senior Lauren McHale and freshman Whitney Kay stormed back to deliver the 4-3 victory, with Kay clinching after winning the final six games of her match with Zoe Scandalis.
After a less tense 4-0 semifinal win over ACC rival Duke, whom they hadn't beaten the previous two years, North Carolina was in the final for the first time since 2010.
Awaiting the Tar Heels was defending champion and top seed UCLA, who had returned to the final with wins over Vanderbilt, No. 8 seed Miami and No. 4 seed Georgia, none of them easy. Playing without sophomore Kaitlin Ray, who was ill, the Bruins managed to take their opponents' best shot and move into position to claim their second straight Team Indoor title.
For all the excitement generated in the 14 matches prior to the final, the championship match surpassed them all, with a third-set tiebreaker in the last match on court deciding the national championship.
As in any match decided in that most pressure-packed of situations, the margin between victory and defeat was thin, no wider than the broken string UCLA's Pam Montez suffered in that final tiebreaker on court 3.
With the dual match tied at 3 points each and UNC's Kay serving up 4 points to 3, there was the unmistakable plink of a broken string from Montez's racquet early in the point. Montez, who has a delicate touch and had already hit a drop volley winner earlier in the tiebreaker, kept the rally going in spite of her handicap, hitting deep looping shots four or five times before a big forehand by Kay was finally too much for Montez, her response sailing well beyond the baseline.
That made it 5-3 for Kay, instead of 4-4, and when Kay hit a clean backhand winner on the next point, Montez was facing three match points. She saved two on her serve, one on a forehand putaway and one on Kay's missed backhand return, but not the third. Eager to get to the net, Montez hit her approach shot straight up the middle and Kay passed her with a well-struck forehand to set off the championship celebration for the Tar Heels.