The Tar Heels had no way of knowing how much of a fight it would be, though. After cruising to a 25-18 victory in the first set, it was as if a switch had been flipped in the second. N.C. State galloped out to an inexplicable 15-2 lead much to the delight of the boisterous Wolfpack crowd thanks to the efforts of freshman outside hitter Daryian Hopper and its own All-ACC selection, Margaret Salata.
But the Tar Heels contributed to their own demise more than any one of their opponents. UNC struggled to break N.C. State’s momentum or generate any of their own, and ended the set with 13 errors and only 10 points.
“In the second set, the biggest thing was that our passing broke down completely,” coach Joe Sagula said. “Kaylie (Gibson) couldn’t pass well, Emily (McGee) wasn’t passing well and had seven hitting errors in that game. Nothing was going well and no one was able to generate any positive plays for us, and we broke down.”
But Sagula said it was the resilience of the team’s leaders, McGee and Gibson in particular, that allowed the Tar Heels to regain a handle on the Wolfpack in the third set.
Kayla Berringer and Nelson put their team up 2-0 with back-to-back kills, shifting the momentum back in UNC’s favor.
“We talk a lot about mindset as a team,” junior setter Cora Harms said. “Things weren’t going our way — they’re playing hard, we’re in their gym, and they have the crowd. But we were able to sit down after the second game and say ‘We need to do this, this and this,’ and we were ready to go with a new mindset.”
UNC reversed its dismal -.200 second-set hitting percentage and put the Wolfpack away 25-19 by hitting .308 and committing just three errors.
But as the fourth set began, N.C. State seemed to once again have UNC’s number.
The Wolfpack clawed its way to a 7-1 lead, but the Tar Heels held fast and produced a 9-3 run to tie the score at 10. The teams traded points until the 22-22 mark, when an attack error by N.C. State’s Rachel Buckley and a Chaniel Nelson kill put the Tar Heels up by two. An Emily McGee kill completed the Tar Heels’ regular season sweep of the Wolfpack.
“It’s just a lesson to any team that you have to play every point,” Sagula said. “Every team takes a bit of a breather and the next thing you know, you’re in a match.
“That’s what happened against Virginia Tech last weekend — suddenly they played hard, and we panicked, and we panicked bad. This time, we kept coming back.”