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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Irish upset top-ranked Tar Heels on Senior Night

Notre Dame defeated No. 1 North Carolina for a historic Senior Night win Friday, 5-2.

The Irish (13-12, 5-6 ACC) captured the momentum early, rallying to take the doubles point against the Tar Heels (22-3, 7-3) after three tight matches.

North Carolina started doubles play with a win when the No. 1-ranked duo of Tar Heel senior Brett Clark and sophomore Robert Kelly knocked off the No. 12-ranked pair of Irish seniors Quentin Monaghan and Alex Lawson, 6-4.

However, the Irish remained unfazed, as juniors Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar went on to defeat the No. 17-ranked duo of Tar Heel juniors Jack Murray and Brayden Schnur, 6-4, while Notre Dame's pairing of freshman Grayson Broadus and senior Nicolas Montoya defeated North Carolina's team of junior Ronnie Schneider and freshman Anu Kodali, 6-4.

Irish junior Josh Hagar follows through on a backhand during Notre Dame's 5-2 win over Duke on March 18 at Eck Tennis Pavilion.
Irish junior Josh Hagar follows through on a backhand during Notre Dame's 5-2 win over Duke on March 18 at Eck Tennis Pavilion.

After taking a 1-0 lead, the Irish built on their momentum when Monaghan defeated Schnur in a back-and-forth, three-set match on court No. 1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Broadus kept the Irish rolling in yet another tight three-set match on court No. 6, ultimately capturing the victory — despite dropping the first set — by a score of 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. Down 3-0, North Carolina refused to go down easily, as Schneider defeated Hagar in two tiebreaker sets on court No. 2, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), earning the Tar Heels their first point of the match.

However, Lawson responded for the Irish, clinching a Notre Dame victory when he bested Kelly, 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(6), on court No. 4. The three-set victory, which featured two tiebreaks, was not easy for Lawson because of the level of his opponent, he said.

“It was a battle,” Lawson said. “The guy I was playing, Robert Kelly, is a great competitor who has been in a lot of battles before. I just told myself to stick with it and not take my foot the gas, and I won the points when it mattered most.”

Lawson said he could not imagine a better way to celebrate his Senior Day, but he was sure to keep his focus on the future.

“Beating Carolina was amazing,” Lawson said. “You can’t ask for anything better than that. Of course, we still have a few more matches, and we’ll look to continue the momentum and see how far we can carry it into the ACC tournament and then the NCAA tournament.”

Having already clinched the win, the Irish split the final two points with the Tar Heels when senior Kenneth Sabacinski topped Kodali on court No. 5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(10), but Covalschi fell to Clark on court No. 3, 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-2, bringing the final score to 5-2 in favor of the Irish.

Notre Dame got its wins Friday in tight matches, and Irish coach Ryan Sachire said he was proud of the way his team played in big moments.

“You expect that everything is going to be tough, and nothing is going to be easy,” Sachrie said. “That’s the way high-level college tennis is. We did a great job in the big moments of not getting discouraged and having the courage to play aggressively, and because of that, we came out on top.”

As for what made the upset possible, Sachire said it was consistency rather than any dramatic changes for his team.

“Honestly, it was the opposite of change that gave us the chance to win,” Sachire said. “That was the first time we had good health in a long time, so continuity was key for us. Most important for us was that the six singles players and Montoya, our seventh starter, were healthy. We got some good work done this week, and we’ve been building the last month or so. We played a good match against Florida State, and coming off of that, we were in a good position to compete and get a win against Carolina.”

This Irish win marks the first time since 1992 that Notre Dame knocked off the nation's top-ranked team. But for Sachire, the win was less about its historic implications and more about giving the Irish momentum going forward this season, he said.

“I think certainly [beating North Carolina] is the biggest regular season win in a long time,” Sachire said. Our only other win over a No. 1 [team] happened in ’92 in the NCAA tournament. But we realize it’s just one match, and we need to look at it as a stepping stone for the rest of the year. We’ve got a month left, and we need to make sure were playing our best tennis going forward so we can go make some more memories this season.”

The next chance for Notre Dame to keep its momentum going will be its final ACC regular season match Sunday on the road at North Carolina State. The match between the Irish and Wolfpack is set to begin at 1 p.m. at the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center.