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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels set sights on improved blocking

Defense at net challenges UNC

Courtney Johnston keeps her eye on the ball in the Tar Heels’ 3-0 loss to Penn State. North Carolina rebounded with wins over Campbell and Villanova.
Courtney Johnston keeps her eye on the ball in the Tar Heels’ 3-0 loss to Penn State. North Carolina rebounded with wins over Campbell and Villanova.

Going into the 2010 season, coach Joe Sagula and the North Carolina volleyball team knew that blocking would be the team’s Achilles’ heel.

The Tar Heels lost two key middle blockers at the end of last season, with graduated Heather Brooks and Ingrid Hanson-Tuntland signing professional contracts in Europe.

The team felt Brooks’ and Hanson-Tuntland’s absence in its match against Penn State on Friday night. The No. 1 Nittany Lions exposed the team’s weakness by recording nearly three times as many blocks as the Tar Heels, racking up 15 team blocks compared to the Tar Heels’ 5.5.

North Carolina struggled to cope with an obvious height disadvantage. The Nittany Lions have seven players who are 6-foot-3 or taller, while the tallest Tar Heels stand at 6-foot-2.

“We have Cora Harms, who’s 5-foot-8, going up against Deja McClendon, who’s 6-foot-1,” Sagula said. “We can’t stop her. We’re not going to win that battle.”

In the team’s match against Campbell on Saturday, the Tar Heels stepped up their blocking game enough to hold off the Camels. The team held the Campbell’s hitting percentage to .046 as the Tar Heels won in three sets.

But UNC suffered a setback when sophomore middle hitter Meg Yanda injured her knee in the first set against Villanova. Sagula said Yanda might have torn her ACL and was not optimistic about her chances of returning this season.

“We’re not sure where things are,” Sagula said. “We’ll know more, but it’s not looking good.”

The loss of Yanda on the court rattled the team and slowed North Carolina’s defense.

“She’s such a hard worker, and for her to go down, it was a big blow to us emotionally,” redshirt senior middle hitter Christine Vaughen said.

The team rallied around Yanda and swept the Wildcats in three sets.

“While we were leaving the locker room, we kept saying, ‘Let’s do this for Yanda,’” Vaughen said.

The Wildcats finished the match with a .075 hitting percentage after sophomore middle hitter Shelbey Bleke entered the game to help Vaughen keep Villanova’s hitters under wraps.

Vaughen stepped away from the court last year and redshirted during her senior season. At Saturday’s match, Sagula said she made her comeback as a player and became a leader for the team.

“I was on her case that she needed to pick up her game and get to another level, and she did,” Sagula said.

“At the end, I said to her, ‘Welcome back. This is the return of Christine Vaughen.’”

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