Tar Heel volleyball advances to second round
Through 19 ties and eight lead changes, North Carolina volleyball (26-5) opened its postseason with a 3-1 victory against California (15-16) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
UNC senior Emily McGee answered Cal’s match-opening point with a kill to start a six-point run.
“The first game’s always a lot of pressure — it’s the most nerve-wracking,” McGee said in a telephone interview. “So being able to start strong like that set our confidence high. It let us say that we belong here and we can do it.”
McGee scored three more of those points on service aces, and junior Kayla Berringer and sophomore Lauren Adkins each added a point on a kill on passes from senior Cora Harms.
That team intensity is what it took to beat a California team with a solid .394 hitting percentage in the first set.
After securing the 26-24 victory, North Carolina kept its momentum by defending against California’s specific strengths.
UNC held the Golden Bears to .125 hitting in the second set and won 25-23.
“We knew we had to make adjustments,” sophomore Ece Taner said in a telephone interview. “They were starting to hit a little deeper. When we saw that and made those adjustments that we needed, we were able to shut them down.”
North Carolina’s offense began to struggle in the third set and lost 25-18.
“We just couldn’t run an offense well in the set,” Taner said. “It all just comes down to serving and passing — we couldn’t connect our offense.
“Once we went back out there ready to do what we had to do, we started executing well again.”
North Carolina overcame its own weak .176 hitting percentage in the third set, and the 6-2, fast-paced offensive lineup showed its effectiveness in the fourth.
“It was kind of like, we just needed to finish the game, we had to push through,” freshman Victoria McPherson said.
McPherson had 12.5 points on the night, but even at that was not UNC’s leading scorer.
McGee had 18 points, Berringer recorded 15.5 and Adkins had 10.5.
“Cal never could key in on one player to stop us — we had really good balance,” head coach Joe Sagula said. “The third game we stopped playing hard. We got it back, and that’s a sign of a good team. This is a really good and big win, and I’m proud of how they did it.”
Sagula and his team hope to see more of that balance in today’s match with Iowa State.
“We had four players in double-digit kills,” McGee said. “It shows the confidence that we have and the room that we have to be confident in our team.
“When that carries over, it will be helpful.”
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