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The Daily Tar Heel

When the North Carolina volleyball team takes the court in Carmichael Arena tonight at 8, it will have a chance to make history.

The first opponent of the Tar Heels’ season is back-to-back-to-back national champions Penn State. The No. 1 Nittany Lions are beginning the season with a 102-game winning streak on the line, and the Tar Heels are eager to end it — even with all the odds stacked against them.

UNC head coach Joe Sagula knows that taking down a top team won’t be easy.

Last year, the Nittany Lions went 38-0, and the team hasn’t lost a match since falling to Stanford in 2007.

By comparison, UNC went 15-16 last season and didn’t receive an NCAA Tournament selection.

With Penn State’s strong offense, the outcome of the match will depend on how well the Tar Heels’ defense holds up. Sagula will look to the back row and players like sophomore setter Cora Harms to lead the team.

In her freshman season, Harms led the team with 8.43 assists per set and earned at least 25 assists per game in conference play.

Arielle Wilson, a senior middle hitter for Penn State, will be a challenge for UNC’s defense. Wilson led the nation last year in attacking percentage with a .540 average and finished first in the Big Ten for total blocks, recording 186.

To compensate for Wilson, Sagula said the team will make serving a priority.

“We need to serve it so it’s not easy on their defense,” he said. “We need to limit her swings, and we can do that if we’re serving well and they can’t set it up.”

Senior outside hitter Suzanne Haydel said Penn State has the advantages of having more size and experience, but UNC has the edge in one major area.

“We have home-court advantage,” she said. “I think our crowd is going to overwhelm Penn State.”

The match is part of the Carolina Classic tournament, which continues through Saturday with matches against Campbell and Villanova.

For the much-anticipated match, Sagula expects the crowd to number in the thousands.

Even with Penn State’s record and reputation, Harms said the team is not intimidated by the Nittany Lions.

“There’s no fear going into it, because we have nothing to lose,” Harms said. “They have everything to lose, and we have the chance of a lifetime to come and play our best.”
Harms, Haydel and Sagula all agree that the team is capable of beating an elite team like Penn State.

“I like our chances, being in Carmichael, this being our first match of the year,” Sagula said. “I think we have a shot.”

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