An Interview with #1 North Carolina Head Coach Brian Kalbas
CitrusTV Tennis Beat Reporter
Syracuse faces it’s biggest test of the season on Friday as #1 North Carolina comes to town.
Last year, the Tar Heels’ bid for an undefeated championship year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they have been the top team in the country all season. Coach Brian Kalbas leads the culture of winning and dominance that has defined North Carolina Women’s Tennis over the years.
For Kalbas, winning in women’s tennis means more when it comes to the ACC which boasts seven teams in the ITA top-25.
“The ACC is the toughest conference in the nation,” said Kalbas. “Obviously we have some talented players but we have just a group of individuals who work really hard, they want to get better, they set goals for themselves as a team and individuals.”
The Tarheels come into Friday’s matchup 20-0 including not having lost a regular-season dual since April of 2018. However, Syracuse does provide some tough challenges going to Friday.
“It’s always tough to play in Drumlins,” said Kalbas. We’ve been playing outside so going back indoors is tough. But I think the respect and the preparation that we try and do for every match no matter who we play brings out the best in us.”
Coach Kalbas recognizes that Syracuse is no team to underestimate. Despite a 6-8 season for the Orange, SU’s roster includes #23 Viktoriya Kanapatskaya who’s the only Syracuse player ranked in the top-25. The team also includes Natalie Novotna, a Virginia Tech transfer who played the No.1 singles match for the Hokies.
“They’re definitely the deepest Syracuse team we’ve played,” Kalbas said. “We’ve always had really tough matches against them. They have tremendous fight and toughness so we know that if we don’t bring our A-game, then we’re gonna struggle.”
Syracuse is looking for its first win over North Carolina in program history. The Orange are 0-7, with six of those matchups seeing SU notch no more than one point.
UNC has its fair share of talent as well. Three North Carolina players (#3 Sara Daavettila, #19 Cameron Morra, #21 Makeena Jones) rank in the top-25 of the ITA rankings.
Senior Sara Daavettila leads the way with a career winning percentage of 95 percent after choosing to return for the fifth year. The UNC superstar is a five-time All-American and three-time national indoor champion.
“This is the first year she has consistently played the number one and deservingly so,” said Kalbas. “She’s only taking one class so she’s able to spend a lot of time with her tennis and so it’s really paying off for her.”
Daavettila is one of the many elite American players that Coach Kalbas has recruited over the years, a system that is different from Younes Limam, who only has one American player on his Syracuse squad.
While both coaches look in different directions when it comes to building their teams, both have had success.
“We really try to bring in the best American players. To me, when you bring in American players they know what college tennis is all about,” said Kalbas. “It is not a knock on international players.”
Kalbas is the former head coach of William & Mary Women’s Tennis that did not have a similar situation as UNC.
“One of my best players at William & Mary all-time was an international player but one of my worst players team-wise was an international player. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting when they are coming from a different country,” Kalbas said.
“American you vet them more, you see them play more, you bring them in for visits, not just talking to them on a Zoom call.”
North Carolina has failed to secure a championship in recent years, despite a culture of dominance in the regular season. Last year saw the cancellation of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt last year we had the deepest team of anyone in the country. We kind of proven that. We already beat the top teams in the ACC,” said Kalbas. “That was our year.”
From 2017-2019, UNC fell to Stanford in the postseason, ending its season in crushing fashion.
Coach Kalbas reflected on how the program has grown. He even mentioned former UNC Men’s Basketball Head Coach Roy Williams as a mentor.
“Last year we felt our season got short by COVID and our three super-seniors and everyone else decided to come back and give it one more shot,” said Kalbas. “Roy ended up paying for our seniors to come back. We want to do right by Coach Williams.”
Like every team, the goal is a national championship. But for Coach Kalbas, the journey is what matters most.
“For us, it is a goal of ours to win a national title…but it’s not the end-all,” said Kalbas. “We’re hoping that we can continue to get better and play the best at the end of the year when it counts the most.”
“If we fall short, the journey we’re gonna be on will be so much more worthwhile and so much more meaningful than any kind of trophy we can possibly get.”
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