The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Smart Play Leads Tar Heels to ACC Title

WINSTON SALEM - Good teams play well when they need to.

During much of the season, the North Carolina volleyball team played like it was fighting itself.

While the Tar Heels usually outplayed their opponents, UNC couldn't always finish them off.

Mental mistakes and a lack of focus made some of North Carolina's regular-season matches closer than they should have been.

But that wasn't the case this past weekend. The Tar Heels entered the ACC tournament seeded No. 2 and left as conference champions.

After defeating Maryland and Virginia on Friday and Saturday, North Carolina's victory against Duke marked its second consecutive ACC tournament championship and its eighth overall.

This time, neither mental breakdowns nor unforced errors slowed the Tar Heels down.

"We definitely learned from those experiences," sophomore middle hitter Holly Strauss said. "Coming into the championship, that was the last thing we wanted to happen to us."

UNC lost only two of 11 tournament games. Although it dropped the first against both Maryland and Duke, these Tar Heels didn't let it get to them. They battled back and swept the next three games in both matches, something the Tar Heels of the regular season may not have done.

"I think we finally jelled together as a team," Strauss said. "Everything was in sync."

The blocking of junior middle hitter Krista Buchholz, the setting of sophomore Eve Rackham and the hitting of Nicole Reis, among other things, mixed for an overwhelming force.

UNC coach Joe Sagula said he was proud of the team's response to the challenges of its opponents.

After being down 6-2 in the fourth game against Duke, the Tar Heels reeled off six straight points behind the serving of defensive specialist Liz Feldman. The run propelled UNC to a 15-7 victory.

On four other occasions against Duke, UNC broke open the match by scoring at least four points in a row.

"They never give up," Sagula said. "When it starts going for us, we play really well."

Tournament MVP Reis and fellow outside hitter Casey Simpson led a powerful offensive attack for the Tar Heels. Both helped North Carolina improve its serving, which in turn set up some easy blocks for UNC throughout the tournament.

"We depend on our serving to put pressure on the other team," Sagula said. "It gives you some easy points and gives you momentum."

The players credited their weekend's victories to their overall team play and the lack of mental mistakes.

UNC kept its focus when it needed to the most and finally finished its opponents off with authority. The Tar Heels were able to work through two slow starts and the opponents' occasional scoring spree.

"I think we just came in here knowing it was going to be hard to focus, and that if we did stay in focus we could win it," Reis said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

"I think we were all ready to play as a team. If we didn't work as a team there was no way we were going to get (the ACC championship)."

The Sports Editor can be reached