It was an interesting moment on an interesting day. From the small crowd at Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center came the rallying cry, "Let's go, Heels!" Certainly a familiar refrain on those courts; when the Tar Heels take on an opponent, they call from court to court to encourage one another. And so it was repeated, "Let's go, Heels!" on one side on the net, and then the other. And then, laughter. Laughter, because on Monday afternoon, it was Tar Heels vs. Tar Heels.
The ITA Carolinas Regional Doubles final came down to Carolina junior Jessie Aney and sophomore Alexa Graham vs. Carolina sophomore Sara Daavettila and freshman Alle Sanford. Graham and Aney were facing teammates for the second time; they'd gotten past Makenna Jones and Chloe Ouellet-Pizer in the semifinals.
Had Monday's match pitted a team of Tar Heels against another school, head coach Brian Kalbas would have been on the court, coaching. As it was, he could only watch from the sideline. And smile.
"It's just kind of awkward a bit," Kalbas said after the match. "It was really quiet and there was no one cheering, and people don't know what to do or say.
"As a coach, it's kind of incredible accomplishment to have three teams in the final four and both teams in the finals. What a great statement for our program."
It was a friendly, hard-fought match, with long rallies all afternoon. But the more experienced team held serve in the final game, and Aney and Graham took the regional crown, 6-1, 6-3 over their teammates.
"Jessie and Alexa played very relaxed and were giggling and happy and they just really played unbelievable, probably because they were so comfortable and relaxed," Kalbas said. "I think Sara and Allie were a little more uptight and were kind of pressing."
Aney and Graham played just one dual match together a year ago, but with Hayley Carter graduated, Graham looks to play alongside Aney moving forward.
"I think we move really well together," Aney said of the duo's partnership. "We have some patterns that work really well that we can rely on, on the big points, which makes a difference in matches like this."
"I'll deliver a bigger shot from the baseline, and then Jessie does a good job of cleaning up at the net," Graham added.
"We complement each other," said Aney.
"Yeah," Graham said. "Really well."
With their win, Aney and Graham earned an automatic bid to Oracle ITA National Fall Championships next month, and Daavettila and Sanford should receive an at-large bid. The Tar Heels' showing in the regional tournament highlighted the depth that the team should have in the spring.
"We have a real strong depth to our team this year," Kalbas said. "Hayley was a big loss, but adding Marika (Akkerman) back to the fold is really good for us and Alle stepping up and having a really good fall."
After the four Tar Heels took pictures, Aney and Graham with their regional championship plaques, Daavettila and Sanford with theirs for runner-up, the younger team quickly left the court. Were they upset?
"Oh, no," Aney said. "We'll probably go in the locker room and we'll go to B-Dubs together."
"We're keeping Hayley Carter's legacy alive with B-Dubs," Graham said.
Brian Kalbas' team keeps rolling, and the team will likely carry momentum from fall tournaments into the spring season. And they can compete hard within the team, then laugh and enjoy buffalo wings together. No wonder he's smiling.