On an adjacent court to where Blaine Boyden was playing in North Carolina’s final match in the NCAA tennis tournament semifinals, his teammates pounded their chests while yelling “Boyden Strong.”
It’s a phrase Boyden has turned to as a source of strength since his mother, Pamela, was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time.
On Monday, Boyden, a UNC sophomore and former tennis standout at Wakefield High, was in the third set against Georgia freshman Robert Loeb when his teammates starting shouting the phrase. The winner of the match would clinch a team berth in the NCAA finals to face Virginia.
After a four-hour rain delay and a call to move the match indoors, Boyden beat Loeb (7-6 (7- 0), 4-6, 6-3), giving the Tar Heels a spot in the championship for the first time in school history. On Tuesday UNC lost 4-2 to Virginia in the men’s championship.
Boyden’s team rallied around him then, just as it has all season.
When chemotherapy treatment caused Pamela Boyden to lose her hair, Boyden’s teammates shaved their heads. Other schools offered support, too. Georgia tennis players wore shoes adorned with “Boyden Strong” throughout the season.
“Special thanks to (Georgia coach) Manny Diaz and his team. I know they honored my mom, and it meant the world to me, and it meant a ton to my mom,” Boyden said. “I really appreciate those guys. I mean, it’s just a tennis match, and it’s awesome that something like that could bring everyone together.”
Georgia’s head coach was quick to compliment Boyden even after the Bulldogs’ close loss.
“We wish him the best,” Diaz said. “He’s a great kid. He competed great today, and he made his team and his mom proud.”
Boyden’s mother was not able to make the trip to Athens to watch her son play this week. His voice broke as he recalled the text messages of support he received from her during her rain delay.
“After the rain delay, I was feeling a little pressure,” Boyden said. “I felt like I kind of dropped my level a bit, and she texted me and said ‘I know I’m not there right now, but I’m cheering you on, and we’re Boyden strong.’ ”