North Carolina volleyball notches first win in home opener
After four games, it was time for a homecoming.
The North Carolina volleyball team returned to Carmichael Arena on Friday night after dropping its first four games of the season. The stretch was by no means an easy one — three of losses came against No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Florida and No. 6 Wisconsin.
Led by upperclassmen Taylor Leath, Beth Nordhorn, and Taylor Fricano, UNC captured a much-needed win in their home opener against LIU Brooklyn. The Tar Heels swept the Blackbirds (25-23, 25-16, 25-21) in front of 2,297 spectators in their home opener.
These three standout players all tallied double-digit kills and gave UNC the offensive firepower it needed for the victory.
"We had really good offense tonight from Nordhorn, Fricano and Leath ...” head coach Joe Sagula said. "To get a 3-0 win at this point in the season for us — not just the win but to do it 3-0 — will help us prepare for the next match.”
Leath, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, had 16 kills, which included eight in the first set.
"It feels good to have confidence and to let your arm go a little bit," Leath said. "I think that this game was big for not only me but for the whole team."
Nordhorn had an equally impressive showing. She delivered 10 kills from the middle and had a .615 hitting percentage. Fricano excelled too, hitting .526 with 11 kills and just one error on the right side. Afterward, Nordhorn seemed hopeful for the future.
“We were just focusing on whatever we can do to get better," Nordhorn said, "and I think we got better tonight.”
Sagula said he was uncertain on the exact timetables for star outside hitter Julia Scoles and setter Mariah Evans, who both didn't play this weekend. Outside hitter Taylor Borup was injured leading up the Carolina Classic as well, and Sagula said she'd be evaluated on Monday.
“Battling through (injuries) and keeping a positive mentality throughout is going to be critical for us ...” Sagula said. “I am confident in everybody, and it's a great opportunity for other people to step up.”
The 2,000-strong crowd was rowdy, and the band played a mix of pop songs and classic UNC fight songs. Nordhorn said this home atmosphere helped the team play more energetically. After all, it was the first time they'd experienced it all season.
"It's really great seeing the crowd here because not only do you have your team getting excited, but you see the whole crowd erupting and we have the band playing," Nordhorn said. ”It's really great. We really appreciate the community.”
Even after a rough beginning to the season, Leath said UNC's difficult schedule will benefit the team greatly by the time the NCAA Tournament comes around. And with ACC play coming around the corner, Leath asserted the team’s improvement will continue as everyone gets accustomed to one another on and off the court.
“We are training for a Final Four, and you have to play those teams,” Leath said. “Whether it is a win or a loss, we’re learning and taking lessons from all of our failures."