“If they try to stop one, the other one is successful,” Coach Joe Sagula said. “The fact that they’re really balancing each other is the key.”
And in UNC’s (6-7, 3-1 ACC) 3-0 sweeps over Duke and Wake Forest this weekend, the dynamic duo took over.
In Friday’s match, the Tar Heels survived a series of swings in the first set before Duke (7-7, 2-2 ACC) snagged a late lead. On the edge of defeat, they turned to their offensive maestro.
Neuenfeldt ripped a vicious kill to stave off set point, piling on two more to claim the set. UNC went on to close out Duke in three sets, fueled by Neuenfeldt’s 11 kills on .846 hitting.
On Saturday against Wake Forest (9-7, 1-3 ACC), the Tar Heels seized the first two sets with ease. But when the Demon Deacons snatched an early lead in the third, McPherson squashed the comeback threat.
The defensive anchor denied Wake Forest with two straight blocks, adding a ferocious kill moments later to assert UNC’s insurmountable advantage. McPherson notched five blocks and five kills in the third set alone, finishing with a team season-best 10 blocks to secure the weekend sweep.
“I told them both, the two of them have to set the tone for us,” Sagula said. “They’re going to complement each other. If they focus on one, the other one can go off.”
The middle blockers’ varying approaches pose a unique challenge to teams that prepare for just one of them. And Neuenfeldt’s ever-vocal leadership role coupled with McPherson’s soft-spoken nature provide a boost to their teammates.
But the All-ACC seniors are far from one dimensional. One leads the team in kills, but the other rests at third. One is first in blocks, while the other sits at second.
“I think we both play to our strengths, but we take opportunities when we get them,” Neuenfeldt said. “If I have a great block I’m going to close it and finish the block, and when she gets an open net she’s going to put the ball away.”
Each player’s versatility helps separate them on the court. But off the court, they are inseparable.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Neuenfeldt said. “Being the same position, same year, coming in together, we can really relate to each other.
“I am confident that she’s the best middle blocker in the ACC, and I know she thinks the same of me.”
And after three years opposite Neuenfeldt in the rotation, McPherson cherishes their relationship.
“Since freshman year, we used to always say, ‘Middles got to stay together,’” she said.
“We really use each other, we lean on each other on and off the court. We’ll talk about stuff. I’ll text her when I’m having a hard day, stuff like that. We have a really good dynamic.”
On the court, they form one of the most formidable tandems in the nation.
“Both together as one position in the middles,” Sagula said. “It’s amazing what they can do together.”