Apr. 26, 2014 @ 07:48 PM

Senior Hanna Mar is the emotional heart and soul of a young Duke team, and grueling stroke after excruciating volley, for three hours and four minutes she dueled with UNC junior Caroline Price in the ACC Women’s Tennis Tournament on Saturday.

Mar laced the ball down the line, to the right and beyond the reach of Price, for the last hit of a three-set tiebreaker to defeat Price, secure fifth-seeded and No. 6-ranked Duke’s 4-3 win over top-seeded, No. 11-ranked Carolina, and propel the Blue Devils into today’s final against third-seed Virginia at 11 a.m. at Cary Tennis Park.

Mar dropped the first set 6-3, bounced back to take the second set 6-1, but fell behind 3-1, 5-4, and 6-5 in the final set, which she never led until the tiebreaker.

She broke Price’s service three times in the final set, but seemed surprised when asked about it after the match.

“I didn’t think too much of it. I just kind of focused on one thing at a time. Being aggressive,” said Mar, whose record is tops among all ACC No. 3 players.

“They’re a really fantastic team. They always give us a great battle. Otherwise it’s a really great feeling to beat UNC, and to just win that match and be in the finals of this tournament,” Mar said, recalling Duke’s prior two wins over the Tar Heels this season.

Mar teamed with sophomore Beatrice Capra to defeat Price and sophomore Whitney Kay 8-6 in the No. 1 doubles match. Capra and Mar are ranked fifth in the nation. Duke took two of the three doubles matches.

Duke coach Jamie Ashworth said it was fitting that the match came down to Mar. She won a tiebreaker in the finals of this year’s ITA National Team Indoors championship, and was named MVP of that tournament.

“I just felt like the first set she didn’t play very aggressive and she just kept waiting back for Carolina to miss. I told her you’ve got to come in, you’ve got to come forward,” Ashworth said of Mar’s play on Saturday.

“She did a great job of changing her strategy,” he said.

Virginia will be trying to win its first ACC title today. The Cavaliers lost to Duke in 1989 in their only prio ACC Championship appearance. Duke has 17 ACC titles, the last coming in 2012.

Ashworth said Duke had a tough ACC draw, having four games in four days, and suffered “a tough loss at Virginia” earlier this year, “but we’ll show up and we’ll be ready to go (today).”

“I have mixed feelings right now because the two wins I got really meant a lot to me, especially against Capra, who I lost to once before and had a really close match last time we played,” said UNC freshman Jamie Loeb, the ACC Player of the Year whose 26-1 record is tops among all ACC singles players.

But losing was bitter, and she said she empathized with Price, who “was giving it everything she had.”

Loeb beat Capra 6-3, 6-3, and teamed with sophomore Ashley Dai in doubles to beat Blue Devils junior Ester Goldfeld and freshman Alyssa Smith, 8-3.