URBANA, Ill. --- No. 2 North Carolina advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons Friday with a 4-1 win over No. 15 seed Nebraska at the University of Illinois' Atkins Tennis Center. Lauren McHale, Caroline Price and Kate Vialle were singles winners for the Tar Heels, who will face the winner of No. 7 UCLA and No. 10 Michigan in Sunday's quarters.
After losing the doubles point in two of their last three matches, the Tar Heels (28-3) came out of the gate firing on all cylinders against a Nebraska team that had lost the doubles point just twice in 2013. The No. 2 UNC doubles tandem of McHale and Ashley Dai set the tone quickly with an 8-2 victory over Stefanie Weinstein and Janine Weinreich. The Nebraska duo entered the match with an incredible 27-1 record in dual match play.
Carolina's Gina Suarez-Malaguti and Tessa Lyons then clinched the doubles point for the second-seeded Tar Heels moments later with an 8-3 victory over Maggy Lehmicke and Izabella Zgierska at the No. 3 position. Price and Whitney Kay looked poised to upset third-ranked Mary Weatherholt and Patricia Veresova when play was stopped, as the Georgia natives led 7-6 at the top of the lineup.
"That was probably the best doubles we've played in a while, all the way down the line," head coach Brian Kalbas said after the match. "Nebraska is extremely tough, especially in doubles, and I thought we came out with a great approach. Ashley really stepped up after sitting out last weekend and we were all happy to see her play so well."
UNC got the start it needed in singles, winning four of six first sets to retain control of the dual. But Nebraska (24-6) would not go quietly as the Huskers looked to extend the best season in program history.
Weinstein briefly tied the dual at 1 with her 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 39 Kay at the third position. The loss was just the fourth of the spring for the Alpharetta, Ga., freshman who earlier in the week was named ITA Carolina Region Rookie of the Year.
That tie would prove to be short-lived, however, as McHale put Carolina back in front courtesy of a near-perfect second-set tiebreak. The Englewood Cliffs, N.J., senior missed a chance to serve out the match up 5-4 in the second but rolled to a 7-0 win in the breaker to score a 6-0, 7-6 (0) victory over Nebraska's Lehmicke.
"For Lauren to come back and dominate the tiebreak the way she did gave us the boost we needed to keep pushing," Kalbas said. "There was a period in the middle of the match where I think we were waiting for them to roll over, but they competed hard and made it really close."
One court over, No. 46 Price soon made it 3-1 with her win over Weinreich. After taking a tight first set in a tiebreak, Price closed out the match with a comprehensive second to win, 7-6 (2), 6-2, and improve to 22-2 on the spring.
It would be the newest Tar Heel who would clinch the match and send Carolina into the quarterfinals for the third time since 2010. Vialle, who joined the program in January, showed no signs of inexperience in her first trip to the NCAA final site, winning 6-1, 6-3 over Zgierska to set off a celebration on the South Courts.
"The team was really excited to get it done tonight," Kalbas said. "They remembered the feeling of losing in the 16s last year and they aren't taking anything for granted."
On the top two courts, No. 7 Suarez-Malaguti was locked in a heavyweight battle with No. 11 Weatherholt while No. 49 De Bruycker had rallied to split sets with Veresova.
"Zoe coming back and winning that second set was important," Kalbas said. "And Pichi was playing really well against an outstanding opponent."
The Tar Heels will practice Saturday before returning to the tournament courts for their quartefinal match Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Carolina has already faced both UCLA and Michigan this season, beating the Wolverines 5-2 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 3 before knocking off the Bruins in the ITA National Indoor Championship title match on Feb. 11 in Charlottesville, Va.
No. 2 North Carolina 4, No. 15 Nebraska 1
1. #58 Price/Kay (UNC) vs. #3 Weatherholt/Veresova (NEB), 7-6, DNF
2. McHale/Dai (UNC) def. Weinstein/Weinreich (NEB), 8-2
3. Suarez-Malaguti/Lyons (UNC) def. Lehmicke/Zgierska, (NEB) 8-3
Order of finish: 2, 3
1. #11 Mary Weatherholt (NEB) vs. #7 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (UNC), 3-6, 6-1, 3-2, DNF
2. #49 Zoe De Bruycker (UNC) vs. Patricia Veresova (NEB), 1-6, 6-1, 1-1, DNF
3. Stefanie Weinstein (NEB) def. #39 Whitney Kay (UNC), 6-4, 6-1
4. #46 Caroline Price (UNC) def. Janine Weinreich (NEB), 7-6 (2), 6-2
5. Lauren McHale (UNC) def. Maggy Lehmicke (NEB), 6-0, 7-6 (0)
6. Kate Vialle (UNC) def. Izabella Zgierska (NEB), 6-1, 6-3
Order of Finish: 3, 5, 4, 6