“As an outside (hitter) you’re working together as a position group and working to improve, but also having to compete every single day,” McGee said.
Coach Joe Sagula attributes his team’s renewed intensity to the raw athleticism that the class of 2016 brings.
“We’re more physical, we have more height and we have more jumping ability,” he said. “We’ve got people who can really elevate over the net, and they just have a great overall athletic response.”
Not only is the incoming class athletic, but it is also meshing well with the rest of the team.
“We came in and all really liked each other, so that was a plus,” freshman Paige Neuenfeldt said.
“We might be the eighth-best recruiting class, but if we didn’t know how to work together with our upperclassmen, nothing would happen, so it’s been great under their leadership.”
Those upperclassmen helped the team earn the runner-up spot in ACC preseason rankings — but the Tar Heels just see that as motivation.
“Coach always says that potential just means you haven’t done anything yet,” McGee said. “This ranking means teams have respect for us and we’re going to get their best game, and that’s a lot of pressure.”
UNC finished the 2011 season 24-9 overall — tied for third in the ACC — but already sees room for improvement this year.
“The frustration for us comes when we’re not doing things how we want to be, only because our expectations are so high for this team,” McGee said. “Normally we’re exactly where we’d expect and hope to be at this point, but we’re really pushing ourselves to do things that Carolina volleyball has never done.”
Sagula has only one starting spot to fill — a hole left by Kaylie Gibson, a Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award nominee and First-Team member.
But even that feat is difficult because of the competition between defensive players Kaitlyn Anderson, Chaney LaReau, AJ Taner and Heather Gearhart.
“We’ve got some tough decisions to make between them because of the talent,” he said. “I won’t feel 100 percent comfortable until we play a couple matches, though, to be honest.”
The Tar Heels begin their season with two weekend road tournaments before they host LSU on Sept. 7.