Tar Heels reach men's tennis Elite Eight for 1st time in 22 years
Sophomore Brett Clark clinched the University of North Carolina's first trip to the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament quarterfinals in 22 years Friday evening as the #7 seed Tar Heels defeated the #10 seed and host Georgia Bulldogs 4-2 at historic Henry Feild Stadium.
Clark's win at #3 singles capped a brilliant afternoon for Coach Sam Paul's Tar Heels before a partisan Georgia crowd at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. In the process, Clark won his 37th singles match of the 2013-14 campaign, breaking the school record he had shared with Roland Thornqvist (1992-93) and Nicholas Monroe (2003-04).
The Tar Heels won a tight doubles point from the home standing Bulldogs and then got victories from the top three players in their singles lineup to prevail over Georgia, which finished the season at 18-8. Carolina, which had already set the school record for victories in a season, improved to 27-5.
It was Carolina's first victory in the NCAA Round of 16 since 1992 when a ninth-ranked UNC squad defeated an eighth-ranked TCU team 5-3 at the McWhorter Courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. Friday's win over Georgia ensures that the Tar Heels will play in the NCAA quarterfinals for the second time since the tournament went to a team format in 1976.
Next up for the Tar Heels will be second-ranked Oklahoma. The Tar Heels and the Sooners will meet Sunday at 4 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The Sooners advanced with a 4-0 win over Kentucky Friday.
Carolina got off to an early lead as it continued its excellent doubles play of late, winning two matches that were every bit as tight as their scores indicated. First off the court were the Tar Heel freshman tandem of Jack Murray and Ronnie Schneider who prevailed over Georgia's Garrett Brasseaux and Nick Wood 8-7. The freshman Heels dominated the tiebreaker 7-1 to get the victory. The other two matches were just as fraught with drama. Eventually, freshman Brayden Schnur and sophomore Brett Clark, a tandem ranked 25th nationally, prevailed over the #8 team in the nation, UGA's Hernus Pieters and Ben Wagland, 8-6. Schnur clinched the point for UNC as he served out the 14th game of the match at love to put the Heels up 1-0. On court 2, UNC's Oystein Steiro and Nelson Vick were all locked up with Eric Diaz and Austin Smith 6-6 when the match was halted.
Georgia would go up in the match 2-1 as the Bulldogs won the first two singles matches off the court. At #6 singles, the Bulldogs' Hernus Pieters prevailed over Carolina's Nelson Vick 6-3, 6-3 to even the match. Shortly thereafter, #82-ranked Ben Wagland of the Bulldogs clinched his match over UNC's Oystein Steiro 7-5, 6-3 at #4 singles.
From that point on, however, it was all Tar Heels. Freshman Ronnie Schneider (Bloomington, Ind.) led the charge for Carolina as he won at #2 singles, earning his 34th singles victory of the year. Schneider, ranked 33rd nationally, defeated 30th-ranked Nathan Pasha of the Bulldogs, who returned to the singles lineup for the first time in NCAA play for the Dogs. Schneider won the first set 7-6, claiming a marathon tiebreaker 9-7, before winning 6-3 in the second set. Schneider had to rally from a 5-1 deficit in the tiebreaker before claiming the first set.
On court #1, freshman Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ontario, improved to 18-4 in singles action during his freshman year as the 15th-ranked Schnur won a three-setter from 23rd-ranked Austin Smith of the Bulldogs by a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 score.
All attention turned to courts 3 and 5 where Tar Heel players had the upper hand in both matches. Freshman Jack Murray of Beverly Hills, Mich., was unfazed by the partisan crowd as he won 7-5 in the first set and was in position to win the second set, leading 6-5 before the match was halted.
It was halted because a few courts over on #3, it was Brett Clark who continued to be a clutch player, improving to 37-11 in singles. His record-breaking win came as the #78-rated Clark beat #70 Garrett Brasseaux of the Dogs 6-4, 7-6. Clark prevailed in the match-clinching tiebreaker 7-3.
#7 NORTH CAROLINA (27-5) def. #10 GEORGIA (18-8), 4-2 - Henry Feild Stadium
Doubles (Order of finish: 3,1)
Singles (Order of finish: 6,4,2,1,3)
1. #15 Brayden Schnur (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #23 Austin Smith (GEORGIA), 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
2. #33 Ronnie Schneider (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #30 Nathan Pasha (GEORGIA), 7-6(7), 6-3
3. #78 Brett Clark (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #70 Garrett Brasseaux (GEORGIA), 6-4, 7-6(3)
4. #82 Ben Wagland (GEORGIA) def. Oystein Sterio (NORTH CAROLINA), 7-5, 6-3
5. Jack Murray (NORTH CAROLINA) vs. Nick Wood (GEORGIA), 7-5, 6-5, unf.
6. Hernus Pieters (GEORGIA) def. Nelson Vick (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-3, 6-3