Century grad Aney loves Tar Heel blue

As if Jessie Aney didn’t have enough reasons to sign with the University of North Carolina to play tennis.

Rochester native Jessie Aney is playing No. 3 singles for the University of North Carolina women's tennis team.

As if Jessie Aney didn't have enough reasons to sign with the University of North Carolina to play tennis.

Yet there was this one more: Those powder-blue Tar Heels athletic uniforms. Just too much to resist.

"That's my favorite color," Aney exclaims.

Pretty safe to say that "favorite" describes countless aspects of her freshman year at the famed college in Chapel Hill.

Favorite tennis team, favorite coach, favorite teammates, favorite competition, favorite academic year, and on and on.


And yes, this has no doubt been the favorite year ever for the 17-year-old and one-time Sports Illustrated Sportskid of the Year.

Talk to Aney and you get the sense that she hit the jackpot in having landed in Chapel Hill, where she is playing No. 3 singles on the No. 2-ranked tennis team in the country.

"When I first looked at North Carolina it just felt like a unique place," Aney said. "Everyone was so friendly and it was an environment where everyone seemed to be trying to be the best they could be. I felt like I could thrive there, athletically and academically. People at 'Carolina' seemed to be pursuing excellence."

After seven months on a campus that includes 16,000 students and competing for a tennis program that has the best of the best, Aney hasn't been disappointed.

"It's been awesome here," said Aney, who along with her team picked up another win Wednesday, North Carolina beating 37th-ranked North Carolina State 6-1, and Aney breezing in her match 6-1, 6-2.

Unbeaten in the ACC

Aney is 9-0 in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference and 26-6 overall. She's ranked No. 62 in the country.

"It's great competing with 10 of the top players in the country ever day (including No. 1-ranked teammate Hayley Carter)," Aney said. "It's a big contrast to when I was playing juniors (in high school), I was the top player in our region, and my best competition every day was my dad (Tom Aney)."


Aney showed up at North Carolina as a recruiting jewel. The former Rochester Century state champion, who played for the Panthers boys team a year ago, was ranked as the No. 4 player in the country among girls 18-under.

North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas knew he was getting somebody special, and that went beyond her tennis. Aney was also a star student and as affable as can be.

"The thing I liked best about her out of high school was her attitude," Kalbas said. "It was her spunk, enthusiasm, love for the game and sportsmanship. She always showed a tremendous respect for her opponent. You could just tell, on and off the court, that she was a special person and would be a great teammate."

What's struck Kalbas most since dealing with her directly has been her hunger to get better.

There's been plenty to work on. Kalbas has reconstructed pieces of Aney's game, including her habit of slicing almost all of her backhand shots, as well as her approach and grip on her volleys.

Aney has sponged up everything that Kalbas is teaching.

"Jessie has been a dream, a perfect fit," Kalbas said. "She's the hardest worker I've ever had. She puts in extra work and isn't afraid to work on things to make her game better. Her biggest improvement has been her backhand. Now she can hit her one-handed backhand with top-sin, right down the line. And she's able to win almost every point off of that."

As well as things have gone for Aney, there has been one difficult moment. That came Monday, when the North Carolina men's basketball team lost on a buzzer beater to Villanova in the national championship game.


Aney is "all in" on all things Tar Heels. That includes their renowned basketball program.

Monday night hurt.

"I'm already way too invested in how they do," Aney said with a chuckle. "I had some tears coming down when they lost. As a fellow 'Carolina' athlete, who know how much those guys care. Just seeing their pain afterward hurt."

Aney knows one way to make up for it. Her tennis team also has championship aspirations. And ranked No. 2 in the country, they know they're plausible.

"We look forward to growing every day," Aney said. "Winning a national championship, that's what we're shooting for."

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