“It’s a good, good week for us,” said No. 3 Will Blumberg after the loss.
“It was a great weekend for us overall,” echoed teammate Bo Boyden.
Not words one would expect to hear given the circumstances. Words, though, that spoke to the character of the players on head coach Sam Paul’s men's tennis team after North Carolina's 4-0 loss to No. 1 Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament final.
“Obviously the end goal is not to win the ACC Tournament,” Blumberg said. “We’ve been playing really well in the past. I thought we played well today, we fought, but our goal is to win the NCAA tournament. I think this is only going to motivate us more for what really matters.”
The Heels consider this loss only a blip on their way to the big dance. There’s more on their minds that the ACC Tournament title. Yes, the loss hurts and was not the desired outcome. The Tar Heels aren't immune to that bitter feeling of defeat that settled over them while they watched on as Wake celebrated.
They know better than to dwell in that feeling though, as nothing good comes out of staying put. The Tar Heels are only up as the postseason settles in in full.
“I’m proud of my team,” Paul. “They don’t quit. I’m really proud of my guys. I knew they’d find a way to get back into the match. I was really proud of them for that.”
The biggest lessons learned come from the doubles point, which Carolina dropped on Sunday afternoon.
The Heels fell behind on all three courts, and while the play on Court No. 1 was 6-5 and remained unfinished with the edge leaning to Wake, UNC's players on Courts No. 2 and No. 3 were never able to regain their footing after the initial leads taken by Wake.
“We’ve just got to play a little bit better doubles,” Boyden said. “I think if we win the doubles point, it’s a completely different match ... I feel like at times we were reacting to them a little bit instead of them reacting to us, but I thought we fought hard and showed a lot of really good signs.”
It’s about improving upon the foundations the team already has set. Even the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the nation, the pairing of Will Blumberg and Robert Kelly, knows it has room for improvement. The two still plan to learn and build upon their past success and bring that into their tournament play.
The positives of the final match came from the individual play, even after the afternoon saw first year No. 30 Ben Siguoin crack and throw his racket down which resulted in a point penalty in his second set. Whether it was from the loud crowd or a result of the chair umpire making calls that were protested by both Siguion and his opponent No. 4 Petros Chrysochos, Siguoin's focus was broken and he was unable to reign himself back in during the match.
When asked about who stood out for their performance, Paul basically ran through the entire lineup as he answered.
“Obviously (Blumberg). Warrior, warrior, warrior. He gets it done every time he gets on the court. Singles and doubles. Then Robert (Kelly) fought back, a good first set. Simon (Soendergaard) had a good tournament. He lost to a heck of a player today. And then Bo (Boyden) won’t quit. He goes down 6-0 and then down a break and then comes back and fights. So again, all those guys stood out in my mind.
“We’ve just got to execute a little bit better game plans in some areas in singles."
Last year, the Heels lost 4-2 in the NCAA final to Virginia in Athens, Georgia, and the determination to get back and win it all is tangible whenever the Heels talk about the postseason. Between the talent and determination, the question is not whether the Heels are capable of pulling off their goals, but whether or not they’ll manage to pull every aspect of their gameplan together to be able to lift the trophy at the end of May.
“I love our team,” Blumberg said. “I mean, our team’s got more heart than any team in the country. We showed it today. We kept fighting. A lot of guys were down in some spots and no one ever gives up on our team. This is only motivation. I can promise you that we will come out harder and stronger and faster in the NCAA tournament, and if we see them again we will come out firing in doubles and we will be running around the court with more energy than you’ve ever seen in your whole life.
"I can promise you that we will be ready in the tournament. It happened last year, it’s going to happen again. It’s just time for us to close.”