Loeb leads UNC to championship match
Jamie Loeb didn't buckle or budge. In the biggest moment of the North Carolina freshman's career, she delivered — emphatically.
Loeb's three-set win at No. 1 singles Monday lifted the No. 7 Tar Heels to a 4-3 win over defending national champion Stanford and sent UNC to the finals of the NCAA women’s tennis championships at Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“I wanted it to come down on me because I wanted to clinch that for my team,” Loeb said. “I really believed in myself and ... I was ready, no matter what.”
Not only did the top-ranked Loeb clinch the Tar Heels’ first-ever title match appearance, she didn’t lose a game in the last two sets. Facing third-ranked Kristie Ahn, a senior, Loeb won 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-0. A volley winner sealed the match, sparking a big on-court celebration with her teammates.
“I tried to focus on myself, but when it came down to me I wasn’t nervous or scared,” Loeb said. “I thrived in it.”
The Tar Heels (29-5) will face No. 5 UCLA (26-2) in the final today at 1 p.m.
“I’m just really excited for our program,” UNC coach Brian Kalbas said. “This is the first time we’ve ever gotten to the finals and in my history beating Stanford.”
The No. 11-seed Cardinal (20-3) are the dominant program in women’s tennis, winning 17 of the past 32 national championships.
North Carolina took down the defending champs by winning the doubles point and with wins from its top three players. In doubles, after the matches at Nos. 2 and 3 split, it came down to the freshmen, Loeb and Hayley Carter at No. 1.
UNC’s third-ranked duo trailed Stanford’s Ahn and Carol Zhao 5-2 before rallying back to win 8-5. Carter said it was the best she’s played in doubles all season.
The fifth-ranked Carter carried that momentum into singles and crushed Krista Hardebeck, 6-2, 6-1, at No. 2, to quickly put UNC in front 2-0. Stanford posted a win at No. 4 singles to get on the scoreboard, but Caroline Price made it 3-1 with a 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 3.
Stanford then won in straight sets at Nos. 5 and 6, turning all eyes to court No. 1.
“I would say when (Loeb) was the only one out there, it was the least nerve-wracking deciding match of all time,” Carter said. “I had so much confidence in her to close it out for us.”
Loeb was already in control of the second set, up a pair of breaks, when Ahn began flexing her right (dominant) wrist. Ahn was clearly having an issue with the wrist, and was looked at by the trainer, but Loeb also kept raising her game and produced winner after winner on her way to earning UNC a shot at the national title.
UCLA had an easier afternoon Monday, beating No. 8 Florida 4-0.