CHAPEL HILL --- No. 2 North Carolina advanced to the NCAA final site for the fourth year in a row with a 4-1 win over No. 31 Tennessee Saturday at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center. Carolina dropped the doubles point but got singles wins from Caroline Price, Gina Suarez-Malaguti, Lauren McHale and Tessa Lyons to earn a spot in the round of 16 next Friday, May 17, in Urbana, Ill.
Tennessee (13-12) edged the Tar Heels in a tight doubles point that was decided by a tiebreak on court two. The Lady Vols' All-America duo of Brynn Boren and Kata Szekely got the first win, topping No. 58 Price and Whitney Kay on court one, 8-6. Carolina responded with an 8-5 victory from Suarez-Malaguti and Lyons on court three to turn the focus to the middle court.
With the match tied at 6, Tennessee's Joanna Henderson and Sarah Toti broke McHale and Laura Slater to take a 7-6 lead. But the Tar Heel pair broke back to even the match at 7 before winning a marathon game to push ahead, 8-7. The Lady Vols held to force a tiebreak and raced out to a 6-1 lead before finally winning, 7-4, to grab the dual's first point.
Despite the setback, Carolina (27-3) responded well in singles, taking early leads on four of six courts before a 31-minute rain delay.
"I was happy with how we responded after the rain delay," head coach Brian Kalbas said. "I think we were able to refocus during the break and I thought we played some of our best tennis after that."
The Tar Heels eventually won the first set on all six courts to fully regain control of the match. Price, who was tied at 3 in the first set when the rain halted play, did not drop a game after the break en route to a 6-3, 6-0 win on court four.
UNC took its first lead of the day soon after with No. 7 Suarez-Malaguti's 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 24 Boren.
"I've been trying all year to focus on one match at a time and not take anyone for granted," Suarez-Malaguti said after the match. "I didn't think I played very well (Friday) and knowing that today was my last home match, it was really emotional for me and important that I go out there and play my game."
McHale made it 3-1 on court five with her 6-0, 6-3 win over Tiffany Tavares. The Tar Heel senior fell behind 3-1 in the second before storming back to win the final five games to take the match and move Carolina to within one point of the final site.
"It felt so good to win today," McHale said. "After losing the doubles point, I refused to let this be my last match with these girls. I'm so happy we were able to refocus and get it done."
For the second day in a row, it was Lyons who clinched the dual on court six. Her 6-3, 6-1 win over Toti gave Carolina its fourth and final point and set off a celebration on the lower courts.
Zoe De Bruycker was just one game away from sealing it herself on court two, as the senior led No. 35 Szekely, 6-3, 5-0, when the match was abandoned.
Kay, who rallied to win the opening set on court three, led 2-0 in the second before play was stopped.
The win puts UNC in the final 16 for the fouth consecutive season, a first in program history. Carolina will face No. 15 Nebraska on Friday, May 17, at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local time in Urbana, Ill.).
No. 2 North Carolina 4, No. 31 Tennessee 1
1. #5 Brynn Boren/Kata Szekely (UT) def. #58 Caroline Price/Whitney Kay (NC), 8-6
2. Joanna Henderson/Sarah Toti (UT) def. Lauren McHale/Laura Slater (NC), 9-8 (4)
3. Gina Suarez-Malaguti/Tessa Lyons (NC) def. Caitlyn Williams/Jesse Grace (UT), 8-5
Order of finish: 1, 3, 2
1. #7 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (NC) def. #24 Brynn Boren (UT), 6-0, 6-2
2. #49 Zoe De Bruycker (NC) led #35 Kata Szekely (UT), 6-3, 5-0, unfinished
3. #39 Whitney Kay (NC) led Caitlyn Williams (UT), 7-5, 2-0, unfinished
4. #46 Caroline Price (NC) def. Joanna Henderson (UT), 6-3, 6-0
5. Lauren McHale (NC) def. Tiffany Tavares (UT), 6-0, 6-3
6. Tessa Lyons (NC) def. Sarah Toti (UT), 6-3, 6-1
Order of finish: 4, 1, 5, 6