When Ronnie Schneider began his collegiate tennis career at the University of North Carolina four years ago, he would be the first to tell you that playing for a national title was not something that he could have imagined.
But on Tuesday night he did, and even though North Carolina fell to Virginia 4-2 in the NCAA men’s tennis finals, Schneider couldn’t be more proud of how the UNC program has evolved over the past four years.
“This is everything that I could ever dream of, obviously we didn’t come out on top today, but we were talking last night about what I imagined when I watched college tennis when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Schneider said. “Never did I dream that I would be at this stage to be able to play for a national championship. So, for me, this has far exceeded my tennis expectations.”
Before Schneider began his tenure with the Tar Heels, the team failed to even make the tournament. Now, all that has changed for UNC.
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“The year before I got (to UNC) they didn’t make the NCAA tournament,” Schneider said. “Now look, four years later and we are in the finals and got very close to winning.”
Before facing each other in the NCAA men’s tennis national title match, Virginia and North Carolina had played each other three times.
There was little the two teams did not know about each other as the teams have played at various venues, both indoors and outdoors, throughout the 2017 season.
All three times the teams played, Virginia got the best of UNC. History repeated itself on Tuesday night in the NCAA national championship with Virginia taking the title for the second year in a row, defeating UNC at the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Courts in Athens, Georgia.
The nail in the coffin, per say, for the Tar Heels was losing a crucial doubles point. After splitting on Courts 1 and 3, the point came down to a battle on Court 2 between UNC’s Jack Murray and Simon Soendergaard and Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Alexander Ritsechard. Tied 6-6, the two duos went to a tiebreaker until Virginia clinched a close 7-6 (5) set, giving the defending NCAA champion the 1-0 match lead.
“I think the doubles point was a key thing for us,” UNC coach Sam Paul said. “A couple points here or there would have given us a lot of momentum heading into singles, but they just out played us in a couple different spots.”
And while UNC stayed within reach in singles with William Blumberg and Robert Kelly both registering wins on their respected courts, it was not enough as Murray fell to Virginia’s J.C. Aragone on Court 5 with a score of 7-6 (2), 6-2 to clinch the match for Virginia.
And while Paul would be the first to say that a second-place trophy was not what he, or the team, wanted, after four years, he sees the change his 2017 group of seniors brought to the program.
“Overall I am just so proud of my senior class,” Paul said. “They have taken us to incredible places, three quarterfinals in the NCAA tournament, finals here and a national championship last year at the ITA Indoors.”
And now that UNC has reached this height, the team doesn’t plan on coming down anytime soon, despite the loss on Tuesday night.
“It was something that I didn’t want to be just a splash in the pan for fours years, I really want Carolina tennis to be competing for national championships year in and year out long after I’m gone,” Schneider said. “I wanted to raise the level of Carolina tennis to a national powerhouse, and I think within these last four years that goal has been achieved.”