UNC volleyball focuses its strengths, learns from errors

The North Carolina volleyball team leads the ACC and is undefeated in the conference.

But for coach Joe Sagula and his players, the top-dog title is not the main focus.

The Tar Heels (13-3, 5-0 ACC) beat N.C. State University Tuesday night 3-2. And although Sagula was disappointed in the number of serving and other errors, the coach was more impressed with his team’s ability to maintain focus and pull out the win.

“It’s significant,” he said. “I think it’s important for them to believe that they know that no matter what happens, they can win. This team has always found ways to win.”

After dominating the first two sets, UNC had six errors to N.C. State’s one in the third set.

It took the duration and pressure of the third and fourth close matches for the Tar Heels to return to their practiced strengths.

“I’m proud that we came on strong in the fifth game, that we didn’t struggle,” Sagula said. “We played our caliber.”

Senior libero Kaylie Gibson said that while the team did find a way to win in the end, it was only by overcoming the mistakes it made.

“We needed to relax and stay focused and just play our game,” Gibson said. “We were making a lot of mental mistakes. They weren’t beating us, we were beating ourselves.”

Junior hitter Emily McGee recognized that the Tar Heels had come into the match with a different focus than they had in any previous match this season.

“We went to class this morning, we woke up early and we went to treatment,” McGee said. “It’s a different situation, so we know we had to have extra focus.”

The Wolfpack challenged UNC as N.C. State is improving from a poor conference finish from last season and already playing stronger in 2011.

“All of the teams in the ACC are really good,” McGee said. “And the fact that N.C. State has gotten some good wins, on the road especially, has shown us that we really had to step up.”

Although the UNC victory confirmed the team’s first-place conference standing, the 5-0 record is not taking center stage in the coach or the players’ minds.

Rather, the focus is on continually generating game-winning play specific to each team the Tar Heels face.

“That’s one of our goals this year,” senior Kayla Berringer said. “We have to be ready and prepare to beat each team one at a time.”

Sagula knows the ability to adapt to different opponents will come from recognizing the strengths of each one and not doubting any ability.

“We have to start to realize that every opponent is tough,” Sagula said. “It’s just a process that each team needs to go through each season, realizing that every team is capable of beating anybody in this conference.”

It’s a process that Sagula thinks can only be finished through game experience.

“Until you’re in it, you don’t believe it.”

Contact the Sports Editor

at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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