Seniors play clutch, seal volleyball victory against Ga. Tech

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UNC outside hitter Emily McGee hits the ball against Georgia Tech as Ece Taner looks on.

Though this year’s North Carolina volleyball team boasts the highest-ranked freshman class in program history, UNC leaned on its veterans in Sunday’s ACC win against Georgia Tech.

Seniors Emily McGee, Cora Harms and Tia Gaffen gave the team the boost it needed to become the first team to sweep the Yellow Jackets this season (29-27, 25-22, 25-19).

“This is one of our best offensive games in a while,” coach Joe Sagula said. “We hit .295 as a team — that was important. We held them to .186, and they’re a good offensive team.”

Gaffen led all scorers with 12.5 points and 10 kills. Harms finished with six kills, 30 assists and 12 digs, while McGee contributed 11 kills and 12 points.

The Tar Heels (13-2, 4-1) started the first set strong, consistently maintaining anywhere from a three to five point lead. But the Yellow Jackets’ strong blocking coupled with consistent hitting led them on a 6-2 run, tying the set at 26-26.

The Tar Heels clinched the first set 29-27 with kills from McGee and Chaniel Nelson and a block from Paige Neuenfeldt.

Though the second set was similarly hard-fought, UNC managed to close it out in 25 points. That momentum allowed the Tar Heels to win the third set with authority and clinch the match.

Sagula credited his seniors’ success to their experience, and he was pleased with their ability to step up.

“Seniors — you hope and you want the seniors to make the clutch plays at the end of the game because they have the most experience,” he said. “You need to go to your seniors to come up with your big plays.”

Gaffen said it was confidence that kept UNC on top.

“Four years of playing college volleyball — absolutely you learn how to handle tough situations better,” she said.

“Instead of being worried, you just gain confidence in what you can do because you have an opportunity over the four years to grow that confidence in yourself.”

That confidence will certainly be tested as the Tar Heels embark on a long road trip, starting with matches against No. 14 Florida State and Miami. UNC will not return to Carmichael Arena until Oct. 19.

“Our goal has been to keep Carmichael undefeated, and we’ve done that so far,” McGee said. “But now we’re stepping on to other peoples’ courts — you know they’re thinking the same thing.”

And Sagula knows that his team will have to keep its composure — as it did Sunday — away from home.

“One of our key words for this match was to be composed in tight situations, (and) I think we were,” Sagula said. “In all the rally and the tough situations, we stayed in control and were able to make a positive play in the end.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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