Volleyball season ends in second round of NCAA tournament

Few coaches would complain if their volleyball team hit nearly .300 against the nation’s No. 15-seeded team and their star hitter recorded 18 kills.

And despite losing Friday’s second-round NCAA match against Pepperdine, North Carolina coach Joe Sagula is certainly not among them.

“Normally if we’re hitting that well as a team, we’re probably winning that match,” Sagula said. “They put a lot of pressure on us, but I thought we hung in there really well. It just goes to show how great Pepperdine played.”

Still, UNC’s loss to the Waves knocked it out of the tournament in the second round for the second year in a row. The Waves handled the Tar Heels in straight yet closely contested sets, 25-20, 25-22, 25-22. The key to the Waves’ dominance, Sagula said, was their relentless defense and remarkable consistency.

“They made just six errors in the entire match,” said Sagula, whose team committed 16 miscues. “They were flawless.”

Pepperdine’s victories in sets one and two weren’t routs, but only in the third did UNC threaten to win a frame. UNC overcame a 19-16 deficit to tie the score at 20.

The Tar Heels again achieved a tie at 22-22, but a costly attack error allowed the Waves to overtake them for good. Pepperdine eclipsed the Tar Heels’ .299 hitting percentage for the match with their own phenomenal mark of .398.

“Your ‘A’ game or your ‘B-plus’ game isn’t good enough when you have to play a team that’s playing their ‘A-plus’ game,” Sagula said. “They played one of their top two or three matches of the season against us.”

And although North Carolina’s volleyball season ended on Friday, Sagula would rather recall his team’s victory on Thursday against No. 10 California, when his Tar Heel team extended its season with an upset of the Golden Bears.

“It’s hard for me to focus on (Pepperdine) because we had such a great win over UC Berkeley (in the first round),” he said. “We had probably one of the most significant wins in the history of the program in beating them.”

Sagula said he was happy with the accomplishments of this year’s team, including a 24-9 record and a third-place finish in the ACC with a conference record of 15-5.

The Tar Heels’ influence has spread beyond the conference as well. This year’s class of graduating seniors went to the NCAA tournament three out of four seasons.

Yet with all the young talent on the Tar Heels’ roster, Sagula said he hopes their legacy will be improved upon in seasons to come.

“Did we achieve what we wanted to? I think we achieved a lot, but not everything,” he said.

“I want to look at that win against Berkeley as a bright note for the program to build upon in the future.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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