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April 24, 2011
CARY, N.C. - North Carolina's hopes of winning the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tennis Championship rested on the shoulders of junior Shinann Featherston.
And as far as Featherston and head coach Brian Kalbas were concerned, the Tar Heels were right where they wanted to be.
"It usually happens that I'm the last one out there on the court for whatever odd reason," Featherston said. "It's happened a lot. I love being the last one out there. I know I have it in me to win, and that's all I think about I refuse to lose. If I get hurt, I don't care. If I have to stay out on the court for hours, that's what I will do."
After trailing Florida State's Noemie Scharle 5-3 in the third set, Featherston fought back for a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory on the No. 3 court that lifted the second-seeded Tar Heels to a 4-3 win over the fifth-seeded Seminoles in Sunday's championship match at Cary Tennis Park.
The ACC Championship is North Carolina's sixth overall, and its first since 2002.
Featherston, was named the Championship's Most Valuable Player, had also delivered match-clinching efforts in Friday night's 4-2 semifinal win over third-seeded Miami, in a 4-3 win over 15th-ranked Georgia during the regular season, and on enough other occasions to give Kalbas full belief the Rockaway Park, N.Y., native could deliver for his team again.
"She's been there before," Kalbas said. "We had a lot of confidence she could come through."
After dropping the doubles point, the Tar Heels stormed back with a trio of singles wins to go up 3-1. Zoe De Bruycker swept Katie Rybakova by a 6-2, 6-1 score at No. 1, while Gina Suarez-Malaguti was victorious set straight sets over Federica Suess, 6-2, 6-0. Jelena Durisic then turned back Francesca Segarelli on the No. 2 court, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
UNC's recovery in the first two singles match proved a relief to Kalbas, who had seen his top-seeded 2010 team start slow against seventh-seeded Georgia Tech in last year's championship match and wind up falling to the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets.
Florida State, similar to last year's Yellow Jacket squad, entered Sunday's match on a tear. The 18th-ranked Seminoles were riding an eight-match winning streak and had won four matches against teams ranked in the nation's top 11 in the previous eight days - including a 4-2 decision over the fifth-ranked Tar Heels on April 15.
"Florida State has been the hottest team in the country," Kalbas said. "I did think a little bit about last year, and I just hoped the team wouldn't. After we lost the doubles point, they did a great job of coming back and competing."
So did the Seminoles, who scrapped back to tie the match at 3-all behind wins by Amy Sargeant on the No. 6 court and Ruth Seaborne at No. 4 to set up the dramatic finish.
Both North Carolina (23-5) and Florida State (15-8) will now await May 3 and the announcement of NCAA Tournament pairings. Postseason play begins with regional action on May 13.