But the Horned Frogs — whom North Carolina had swept just two weeks ago — had other plans.
TCU built an early lead in the second set that it never relinquished, eventually winning 25-21.
“Once they realized they could play with us, their energy level picked up,” said senior co-captain Abigail Curry.
Out of the break, UNC grinded out a tight third set to win 25-23 and take the lead in the match.
But the Tar Heels got blown out of the water at different points in the final two sets, allowing TCU to fight its way back into the match.
“We didn’t keep the foot on the gas,” redshirt sophomore Taylor Leath said.
The Horned Frogs got out to an early lead in the fourth set, but North Carolina battled back to pull within two. TCU then ripped off seven straight points, including six off kills, to go up 21-12 and cruise to a 25-18 fourth-set victory.
In the fifth set, UNC won the first two points and stayed in control early. But the Horned Frogs once again came roaring back and ripped off five unanswered points to take a 10-6 lead — riding that advantage to take the set 15-10 and ultimately win the match.
Sagula said the Tar Heel offense became too one-dimensional in the final two sets — only going to the outside hitters — which allowed TCU to easily defend against UNC’s attacks. Defensively, it was just a lack of execution.
“Their offense was clicking and we couldn’t get a block down ...” Sagula said. “We were looking at each other like, ‘What are we gonna do?’”
Sagula said playing back-to-back matches Saturday with little rest in between might have contributed to some fatigue in his players down the stretch.
But it wasn’t an excuse for why UNC lost. Mental mistakes, such as 11 service errors, affected the game more than any potential weariness.
The weekend performance wasn’t all bad news for North Carolina, though.
The Tar Heels won the tournament and had three players — first-year Taylor Borup, Curry and Leath — named to the all-tournament team, with Leath earning MVP honors.
Sagula said while he wants continued improvement from his team in all areas — particularly passing, defense and blocking — he wants to maintain perspective after the loss.
“We’ve had some good things happen,” Sagula said. “We’re going to learn from this situation.”