Different setter, paths
Crystal Curry, Abigail’s mother, said her daughter began her volleyball career when she was 8 years old. When Abigail earned a position in a 12-year-old league at the age of 10, Crystal said she believed the club had made a mistake.
“They put her on that top team and she never looked back,” she said.
Crystal said her daughter played on older teams throughout her career.
Although Abigail made the Plano West Senior High School varsity team as a first-year, Crystal said she didn’t receive as much attention from college coaches as the older players on her teams. But Abigail refused to settle.
“Her goal is to always play the toughest volleyball she can play and make the team she plays on better,” Crystal said. “The thing that I’m most proud of is that every team she goes to, she makes better.”
Jordyn engrossed herself with volleyball mainly because of a visit by Misty May-Treanor, a three-time Olympic gold medalist beach volleyball player, at a volleyball club. The visit struck a chord with Jordyn. Though her first love was dancing, she threw herself into volleyball.
Abigail is from Texas and Jordyn is from California. Jordyn was a dancer and Abigail was overlooked, but their paths crossed when North Carolina and Assistant Head Coach Eve Rackham began to recruit them. Once they both were on campus together, it was easy to see they were at odds with each other.
‘Becoming one person’
Coach Joe Sagula noticed the discord among his setters soon after Abigail joined the team.
“I think in their first year there was a little bit of competition,” Sagula said. “I think they were both trying to be good. They respected each other, but they weren’t close.”
Jordyn and Abigail quickly noticed the talent the other possessed and tried to emulate it to gain an advantage. Jordyn desired Abigail’s calmness and soft hands, while Abigail tried to adopt Jordyn’s aggressiveness and defensive expertise.
But they eventually realized the competition was detrimental to the team and strove to overcome the competition by setting it aside.
Rackham detected a difference immediately.
“It was just so cool to see them become really good friends and then, all of a sudden, start sharing information off the court during timeouts and then, all of a sudden, they were kind of becoming one person and really working for and with each other,” she said.
Rackham, who played setter for UNC from 1999-2002, joined the coaching staff in 2009 and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2013.
She grew close to Jordyn and Abigail during each of their recruitments, and maintains those relationships as a coach.
Rackham noticed the talent Jordyn and Abigail held soon after they began playing at UNC. She said they didn’t require much work on volleyball fundamentals. She and Sagula focused on instructing the setters more in tactics.
“I know when I’m on the court and I’m making plays I kind of imagine what she would do,” Jordyn said. “There’s a lot about the game that she’s taught us.”
Abigail said Rackham’s coaching can be challenging because she’s so competitive.
“She was so successful as a player here so it’s her school too and you’re stepping into her shoes, in a sense, so it adds even more responsibility and more pressure on you because she wants perfection,” she said.
“She’s a Slytherin,” she said. “If you don’t make a play, it’s like you don’t only let your team down but you let her down too because she put the banners up there.”
A fine-tuned system
Sagula, in his 26th season as the Tar Heels’ head coach, originally implemented a 6-2 system — which utilizes two setters at once — to maximize the strengths of his team.
During her first year, Jordyn played in a 6-2 system. Once Abigail arrived, Sagula saw the talent in both.
He wanted to play a 6-2 system again, assuring playing time for each and requiring the two to be similar for the team to succeed.
“We are different setters and so we’ve had to try to learn how to be one because (Jordyn’s) tempo is always faster than me,” Abigail said.
Jordyn believes a spark from one setter fuels the other. She said her aggressive playing style complements Abigail’s steadiness.
That combination led them to a productive 2014 season. The duo accounted for 88 percent of the team’s sets and 35 percent of its service aces.
Abigail said an additional benefit of playing in a 6-2 system is the dominant hitters on the roster can be utilized effectively. But the system doesn’t work if the two setters are out of sync. Abigail said she and Jordyn have discovered how to become more alike.
“We both have our talents and we kind of lean on each other,” Abigail said.
Jordyn said they even use their differences as an advantage.
“We have to kind of mold to each other and maintain that chemistry and that flow on the court,” she said.
The pair’s importance to the team has not been lost on Rackham, who said the setters’ performances often determine the outcome of matches.
In 2014, both setters were voted as the “unsung heroes” of the team.
“They don’t get a lot of attention, they don’t get the awards from the media and that sort of thing, but our system doesn’t run and we are not successful without what they do,” Rackham said.
Often, a casual fan watching a match will confuse one for the other. Sagula said sometimes announcers will even mistake the two.
And that’s just what the coaches want. Ideally, the two players will be so in unison that observers won’t notice any difference once one leaves and the other enters.
Volleyball brought them together. They should have been competitors. But they formed a resilient friendship that extends well beyond volleyball.