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Lucas: A Two-Time Champ

Lucas: A Two-Time Champ

By Adam Lucas

On Sunday, Jamie Loeb became the first freshman in almost 30 years to win both the Riviera/ITA Women's All-American Championship and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship in the same season, as she whipped UCLA's Robin Anderson, 6-3, 6-2, in Flushing, N.Y.

On Monday morning, she celebrated by going to Spanish class and history class.

That's the kind of season it's been for Loeb, who has had one of the best falls in the history of Carolina women's tennis. On the weekends, she's gone out and obliterated most of her competition, piling up a 19-1 singles record and winning two major tournaments. During the week, she walks the campus at Carolina, where national- and world-class athletes are seemingly in every corner of the Pit.

Loeb is more familiar with the junior tennis world, where her achievements are well-known and her reputation precedes her; she might be a freshman, but she was the number-one seed at this weekend's USTA/ITA National Indoor Championship.

At Carolina, however, she's on campus with teams from men's and women's soccer and field hockey that have all been ranked number-one in the nation at some point this season, plus a volleyball team having the best season in program history (Loeb is roommates with volleyball setter Abbey Curry and has already attended three of Curry's matches).

And that's just among the fall teams, and not including top-15 men's and women's basketball teams and a football team that has held the most electrifying sports event of the 2013-14 season so far, the Zero Dark Thursday game against Miami at Kenan Stadium.

So you might not be fully acquainted with Jamie Loeb just yet. But you soon will be.

Loeb wasn't a traditional Tar Heel tennis recruit. Carolina head coach Brian Kalbas had identified Loeb--a member of a family with plenty of tennis experience, including an older sister who played at Wake Forest--as a potential recruiting target early in the process, but when she didn't respond to the initial overtures, the Tar Heels moved on.

They landed Hayley Carter, who made the semifinals in New York this weekend and finished the fall season with a 19-3 record. And then they found out their class might get an addition.

"I actually thought I had responded to Carolina, but when I looked back at it, I realized I hadn't," Loeb says. "My sister spoke to Sara (Anundsen, a former UNC player and current assistant coach) through Facebook. Before that, they didn't know I was interested. I ended up taking a visit, and I really liked the school and the coaches and the girls on the team."

Loeb was rated one of the top recruits in the country, so she didn't arrive in Chapel Hill as a raw talent. And she's not a newcomer to big tournaments, as she's also played the US Open and Wimbledon juniors events. But there have been other experienced players who haven't had the same level of instant impact in college tennis. What makes Loeb different?

"She had obviously played a lot of matches before she got here," says Kalbas. "She came in ready competitively, and her match toughness is tremendous. But she's so coachable. We challenged her to do some different things, and she's really adapted to that."

Those changes include making her serve a weapon and varying the way she attacks opponents. It showed in New York--the freshman didn't lose a set in the tournament.

Loeb will go into the winter the holder of two major titles and a 19-1 record in her first season of intercollegiate competition. She doesn't seem especially impressed.

"Ever since I was younger, I've always been the type who wants to compete," she says. "I've always wanted to practice. I do take some days off, but I'm not the type who would take a week or two off. I want to go to practice every day and focus on certain things I want to work on, so that when I'm ready to compete, I have confidence in myself."

She'll turn her focus to team competition in the spring, when Carolina should have a very strong squad capable of contending for national honors. And in the meantime?

She'll keep going to Spanish and history class, among others. With her busy playing schedule, she's had to keep in close contact with professors to make sure she's maintaining her schoolwork. So they're aware of her playing schedule, if not the extent of her exploits.

"My professors today asked me how I did this weekend," she said on Monday, less than 24 hours after claiming her most recent major title.

And?

"I told them. In the tennis world it's more like, 'Oh wow, congratulations.' But at Carolina, there are so many really good teams and players. I'm glad to be part of it."

Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.