CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — With six Vols making their NCAA Tennis Championship debuts, Tennessee caught the momentum and never looked back in a 4-1 first-round victory against UNC Wilmington on Saturday at the Cone-Kenfield Center.
After taking the doubles point, the 17th-ranked Vols (15-13) got straight-set wins from Taylor Patrick, Edward Jones before Hunter Reese clinched the match on court 2 by beating Chris Cooprider 6-1, 6-3.
Tennessee now takes on host and 15th-seeded North Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the second round. The Tar Heels quickly defeated College of Charleston 4-0 in their match Saturday.
Sunday’s winner advances to the NCAA final site in Athens, Ga. The Vols have reached the final site the last four seasons. Tennessee and North Carolina have not played each other since 2000, a 4-2 win for the Vols on their way to the NCAA semifinals.
Patrick, sophomore Jarryd Chaplin and redshirt freshman Hunter Reese had witnessed the NCAA Championships before, but that was only from the stands cheering as their teammates rolled to the title match and the quarterfinals the last two years. For the rest of the freshmen, the trip to North Carolina was their first NCAA experience.
Only Jones and senior Bryan Swartz had actually played in the national tournament, with Jones leading the way by far with his 11th career NCAA lineup appearance Saturday.
“We’ve been waiting for this all year really; you do all your training in the fall and ultimately it leads up to the NCAAs,” Patrick said. “For me, I’ve been here for two years. I’ve been through the NCAA Tournament but I’ve never played in it. It was a bit of a nerve-racking experience.
“I still played well out there but nerves were getting in the mix of play, making some nervous mistakes. I settled down after a little bit and got a hold of the match and felt good out there.”
Freshmen Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese jumped out to an early lead at the top of the doubles lineup in an 8-4 victory over Cooprider and Kosta Blank, good for their 23rd win together of the season.
Jones and Jarryd Chaplin, who moved into the national rankings for the first time this week at No. 73, lost four games in a row midway through the match but recovered for an 8-5 win against Petro Mol and Michael Reilly on court 2 to clinch the doubles point.
Tennessee kept rolling to start singles play, winning five of six first sets.
Patrick was first off the court for Tennessee, beating Reilly 6-4, 6-0 on court 6 as matches starting wrapping up in the bottom half of the lineup. UNCW cut Tennessee lead to 2-1 when Mol beat Chaplin 6-4, 6-1 on court 4.
Jones beat Kaue Pereira 6-2, 6-3 on court 5 to put the Vols ahead 3-1, putting all the attention on the top three courts.
With Libietis still early in his second set on court 1 and freshman Brandon Fickey starting the third on court 3, Reese was in position to finish off the match for Tennessee. He broke Cooprider to clinch the team victory and extend his winning streak to three matches.
“I did a good job of treating it like every other match, and I feel like everybody did,” Reese said. “I told Sam the other day, between the hotels and the practices, everything feels normal. That’s a really good thing. It’s a really good experience for me.”
Notes: Tennessee has reached at least the second round in Sam Winterbotham’s six seasons as head coach ... Junior Edward Jones is now 8-1 in his career in NCAA doubles matches. In clinching the doubles point, Jones and Jarryd Chaplin improved to 9-2 as a team this season ... Patrick snapped a six-match losing streak on court 6 ... Jones and Hunter Reese both recorded their 20th singles wins of the season.
Tennessee 4, UNC Wilmington 1
1. #28 Mikelis Libietis (UT) vs. #95 Rafael Aita (UNCW) 6-4, 2-3 DNF
2. #72 Hunter Reese (UT) def. Chris Cooprider (UNCW) 6-1, 6-3
3. Brandon Fickey (UT) vs. Kosta Blank (UNCW) 6-3, 0-6, 1-2 DNF
4. Pedro Mol (UNCW) def. Jarryd Chaplin (UT) 6-4, 6-1
5. Edward Jones (UT) def. Kaue Pereira (UNCW) 6-2, 6-3
6. Taylor Patrick (UT) def. Michael Reilly (UNCW) 6-4, 6-0
1. #12 Mikelis Libietis/Hunter Reese (UT) def. Kosta Blank/Chris Cooprider (UNCW), 8-4
2. #73 Jarryd Chaplin/Edward Jones (UT) def. Pedro Mol/Michael Reilly (UNCW), 8-5
3. Peter Nagovnak/Bryan Swartz (UT) vs. Kaue Pereira/Rafael Aita (UNCW), 5-5
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (6,4,5,2).