For the UNC volleyball team, Tuesday’s match against N.C. State University was a tale of two teams.
While the Tar Heels eventually pulled out a 3-2 nail-biter, no one would have blamed fans for leaving after the first two sets.
After winning sets one and two by hefty margins, UNC fell apart in the third and fourth.
“We had 67 assists, 72 digs, and 12 blocks, but no one’s gonna remember that,” coach Joe Sagula said. “You know what everyone’s gonna remember? That we made so many service errors. We had 13 errors, and that was too many.”
The Tar Heels began the match with a dominating 25-12 performance, during which it limited the Wolfpack to a .029 hitting percentage while hitting .467 themselves.
Set two went just as smoothly for the Tar Heels. The defense’s four team blocks and 17 digs easily kept the Wolfpack out of striking distance and restrained its opponent to a dismal -.171 hitting percentage. UNC won the set 25-11.
But Sagula said he wasn’t entirely pleased, even with a 2-0 lead.
“I told them there were a couple things we could have done better, even in game two,” he said. “We missed three serves, and I told them to cut that back, but we ended up missing five or six in the next two sets.”
As UNC jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third set, the ample contingent of visiting fans had quieted. But when N.C. State pulled ahead, 5-4, it seemed even then that momentum had shifted.
The Tar Heels went on to commit six errors to N.C. State’s one and yielded the set 23-25.
The Wolfpack retook the court for the fourth set a rejuvenated team, while UNC seemed bewildered by its meltdown. N.C. State capitalized on its newfound momentum, and with the crowd behind it, forced a fifth set.
An uncharacteristic seven errors from the Tar Heels made the difference as UNC gave up another set, 20-25.
With cheers from the Wolfpack faithful echoing in Carmichael Arena, it was little wonder UNC seemed fazed.
“We just needed to take a second, take a breather, relax, and be competitive out there,” senior libero Kaylie Gibson said. “Every game for us is important, but it helps that it’s State, especially with the fans here too. It’s just an extra motivator to beat them.”
That motivation shone through in the fifth game as UNC handily put the match away, 15-9.
“I’m real proud that we came on strong in the fifth game, that we played our caliber in the fifth game,” Sagula said. “We blocked well, we served tougher, and we got our kills.”
UNC, which is now 5-0 in the ACC, shares the top of the conference with Florida State. The Tar Heels will stake their claim to the No. 1 spot against the Seminoles on Friday night with the experience of a tough win behind them.
They hope to put away Florida State in fewer sets than the five Tuesday night required.
“We just need to consistently compete and go hard,” Gibson said. “When that happens, we’re a scary team.”
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