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UNC's Carter Has Extra Tough Grit at NCAAs

May 21, 2014 02:55 PM
Hayley Carter pushes UNC to its first NCAA team final.

By Chris Starrs, Special to USTA Southern

ATHENS, GA. – It’s likely nobody celebrating a birthday during the 2014 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships will have a memory of their day rivaling what North Carolina freshman Hayley Carter experienced.

Carter, from Hilton Head Island, S.C., celebrated her 19th birthday on May 17 by recording the clinching match in the No. 7 Tar Heels’ 4-2 quarterfinal victory over No. 2 Alabama. The 5-foot-11 Carter – ranked fifth nationally -- made quick work of the Crimson Tide’s Danielle Spielmann, 6-2, 6-2.

“It was really special,” said Carter, who along with fellow freshman Jamie Loeb is redefining the word in Chapel Hill.

Led by senior Tessa Lyons and paced by youngsters like Carter and Loeb (the No. 1-ranked player in the country), North Carolina (29-6) ascended to new air at the NCAAs this year, defeating No. 11 Stanford, the afore-mentioned Tide and No. 10 Texas A&M in Athens. They reached the championship finals for the first time in school history, falling 4-3 to No. 5 UCLA in a gritty battle waged by both teams on May 20.

Advances in singles
Although fatigued, dispirited and sore from the previous day’s match, Carter dutifully took to the court for the first round of the NCAA singles tournament and tussled with a tenacious Maho Kowase of Georgia before claiming a 6-4, 6-3 victory to advance to the second round.

“It was a heartbreaking loss for all of us,” said Carter, who defeated No. 8 Jennifer Brady 6-2, 6-2 at No. 2 singles in the championship match. “We were all struggling. I was struggling to come out on the court to just play for myself. But I realized playing individually, I’m still playing for my school. But it’s been an amazing experience here – I’ve never had anything in my life like it.”

During her first year on the college circuit – where she went 47-6 in singles and 32-5 in doubles with Loeb, was named the ITA’s Player to Watch in the Carolina Region and made the NCAA All-Tournament team with teammate Kate Vialle – Carter dealt with several painful injuries, but she did what she could to diminish her downtime.

“Pretty much the whole year I’ve dealt with a stress reaction in my shin that might be a stress fracture, and against Clemson, I tore my plantar fascia. So, I’ve been dealing with that,” said Carter after her match Wednesday with Kowase. “I had to sit out doubles at ACCs and only played against Duke in singles. I was fortunate to play singles here, and I’ve had some numbing patches on my foot and I’m trying to get through it.”

“It’s been really special because she hasn’t been able to practice as much as she wanted to because she’s been nursing a few injuries and incurred a few more injuries while she was here,” Tar Heels coach Brian Kalbas said of Carter. “But I don’t think there’s anybody tougher in the country – physically and mentally – than her.”

Born in Chattanooga and now claiming Columbia, S.C. as home, Carter has trained at Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in the Low Country since the age of 11. A 14-time South Carolina state champ while at Smith Stearns, Carter had planned to spend a portion of the summer on the road and on the courts, but she’s decided to return to school for healing and homework.

“I was going to travel to some pro tournaments this summer, but I’m going to take it off now and go to summer school and try to heal my foot up so I don’t have to have surgery,” she said.

A highly recruited junior, Carter said she’s been more than content as a Tar Heel.

“It was between Duke, UNC and Florida, and I thought UNC had the best mix of academics and athletics and I absolutely loved the coaching staff,” she said. “Brian has been so helpful to me and he’s one of my best friends. And the fans ... we may not have the most fans or the loudest fans, but we have the most loyal fans. They’ve been so supportive of us.”

Lyons and Laura Slater, both seniors, represent North Carolina’s only 2014 departures, and with some gifted newcomers arriving in the fall, the Tar Heels could make even more history in the near future.

“We’ve talked all year long about gaining respect,” Lyons said after the UCLA loss. “We’ve never gotten to this point and most teams didn’t even think we could get this far. In the years to come, (Carter) is going to be killing it and they’re going to give North Carolina respect because of this girl and everyone else out there.”

When asked what she felt was the best part of her game, Carter paused and said, “I’m going to be super-generic; the best part of my game is my fight. Whenever I’m down, I feel like I can run every ball down and make my opponent work. I get some free points off my serve and my forehand, but my biggest strength is that I won’t let anybody get an edge on me.

Carter is taller than the average college player (5'11") and said she’s going to work on honing a fine edge to that difference between her and her opponents..

“I don’t think I use my height to my advantage as much as my coach wants me to,” she said. “I definitely need to be more aggressive and step in more. My volley’s been kind of a defensive play and I’m working on that to use it as an advantage, (to) cover more court, be more aggressive and attack more.”

As the sun sets on Carter’s first year in the college ranks, the past, present and future all looks bright.

“It’s been way better than I ever expected or dreamed,” she said. “I always hoped, but I never expected us to get to the finals. It was amazing team-wise and individual-wise for me. I love everything about it.” 




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