CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. --- No. 8 North Carolina completed an incredible run through the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in dramatic fashion Monday, defeating top-seeded and No. 2 UCLA, 4-3, to claim the program's first team national title. For the second time in three days, freshman Whitney Kay won a three-setter to clinch the final point, this time winning the final set in a tiebreak.
Just as they had against third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals, the Tar Heels (9-0) struggled early in doubles and ultimately dropped the point to the top-seeded Bruins.
Kyle McPhillips and Catherine Harrison topped No. 51 Lauren McHale and Tessa Lyons on court three, 8-4, before No. 16 Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton bested No. 8 Kay and Ashley Dai on court one, 8-6, to give UCLA (6-1) the day's first point.
That put Carolina in the unenviable position of needing to win four of six singles matches against a strong Bruin lineup headed by one of the nation's top players in Anderson.
But just as they'd done against the Trojans, the Tar Heels got off to a strong start in singles and won the opening set on four of six courts.
"We talked to the team after doubles and told them we didn't want to give up any free points or create any more momentum for UCLA," head coach Brian Kalbas said after the match.
UCLA took the first singles win of the title match on court four as Chanelle Van Nguyen defeated No. 111 McHale, 6-4, 6-0, to put the defending champions up 2-0.
No. 11 Gina Suarez-Malaguti got UNC on the board next with one of the best wins of her four-year career. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., senior beat No. 6 Anderson in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, at the top of the singles lineup.
"Pichi's win was truly remarkable when you consider the kind of run that Anderson has been on," Kalbas said. "She hadn't lost a singles match all year and is just an outstanding indoor player, and I think that win really gave us a shot in the arm and put some of the pressure back on UCLA."
No. 101 Lyons was next to finish on court six. The Wallingford, Pa., junior returned to the lineup after sitting out each of the last two days and handled Courtney Dolehide in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, to even the dual at 2.
No. 36 Caroline Price then gave Carolina its first lead of the day with her 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Harrison on court five.
"Tessa stepping in was really excited to get back out there and she played like a champion," Kalbas said. "Caroline played an amazing first set against a really tough opponent and then gutted it out in the third."
Suddenly it was UCLA on the brink of defeat as the Bruins needed the final two matches to retain the crown.
No. 47 McPhillips got the first necessary point on court two, defeating No. 28 Zoe De Bruycker in three sets, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.
"I think Zoe winning that second set really helped Whitney along the way," Kalbas said. "All those little things mean so much when you're trying to dig out of a doubles deficit."
That left No. 21 Kay and No. 96 Pamela Montez to decide the championship and the final match would go the distance on court three. Kay took the opening set, 6-2, before Montez rallied to take the second, 6-4.
The third set was close throughout, and despite several chances, Kay was unable to get a late break. Montez spoiled a pair of break points to hold for 4-4 and Kay had her first match point of the day at 5-4. But Montez was able to keep the match alive and the two traded holds before needing a tiebreak to end it.
Kay got out to a 4-2 lead at the first changeover and won a pair of points on her serve to get it to 6-3. Montez fought off the first two match points, but Kay hit a clean forehand winner to win the tiebreak, 7-5, and the match, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6.
"For a freshman to be in that situation, in this kind of environment, and come up with two clinching wins gives us all so much confidence moving forward. Montez played a nearly flawless third set and Whitney just continued to trust her game."
For UNC, the win marks the program's first team national championship in its second ITA indoor final. The Tar Heels fell to Northwestern in the 2010 title match, setting the tone for a season that saw Carolina reach the No. 1 national ranking and the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.
"Pure exhilaration is how I'd describe it," Kalbas said. "It's hard to put into words just how proud Sara and I are of this team."
Carolina can expect to move up in ITA rankings when the next poll is announced Tuesday after beating four top-15 opponents this week and three of the nation's top four teams. The Tar Heels will get their chance to knock off current No. 1 and defending NCAA champion Florida in Chapel Hill on Monday, Feb. 18.
No. 8 North Carolina 4, No. 2 UCLA 3
1. #16 Robin Anderson/Skylar Morton (UCLA) def. #8 Ashley Dai/Whitney Kay (NC), 8-6
2. Courtney Dolehide/Pamela Montez (UCLA) vs. Gina Suarez-Malaguti/Zoe De Bruycker (NC), 7-3, unfinished
3. Kyle McPhillips/Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. #51 Lauren McHale/Tessa Lyons (NC), 8-4
Order of finish: 3, 1
1. #11 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (NC) def. #6 Robin Anderson (UCLA), 6-3, 6-4
2. #47 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. #28 Zoe De Bruycker (NC), 6-3, 2-6, 6-2
3. #21 Whitney Kay (NC) def. #96 Pamela Montez (UCLA), 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5)
4. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) def. #111 Lauren McHale (NC), 6-4, 6-0
5. #36 Caroline Price (NC) def. Catherine Harrison (UCLA), 6-2, 2-6, 6-2
6. #101 Tessa Lyons (NC) def. Courtney Dolehide (UCLA), 6-1, 6-4
Order of finish: 4, 1, 6, 5, 2, 3