With just a couple of weeks left in the North Carolina volleyball team’s regular season, freshman Victoria McPherson got the first start of her collegiate career Sunday against Wake Forest.
She made the most of it.
In UNC’s 3-0 (25-19, 25-1 6, 25-21) victory against the Demon Deacons, McPherson was able to take advantage of her increased playing time with eight kills — the second highest total on the team — as well as three blocks.
“It was good to get (the start),” McPherson, a middle blocker, said. “I’ve been working really hard in practice, so this was just really great.
“All year we’ve been focusing on blocking and being able to shut down the other team’s middle, so I just tried to focus on that and I think without that the match really could’ve gone either way,” McPherson said.
In a slow start to the first set, UNC allowed the Demon Deacons to take an early 5-2 lead. But the Tar Heels bounced back to take an 8-7 lead of their own, one that they would not relinquish.
Fellow freshman Paige Neuenfeldt said McPherson’s performance in the middle was one of the major reasons for the Tar Heels’ sweep of Wake Forest.
“She went out there right away and had some big swings, and it was great,” Neuenfeldt said. “She had a ton of kills, and she was holding blocks, and she was really just being a threat in the middle, which is what we need.”
Coach Joe Sagula agreed that the team’s play at the middle of the net, especially McPherson’s, caught the Demon Deacons off guard and gave the Tar Heels plenty of opportunities.
“We ran our middle attack so quickly that Wake Forest never really had a chance to set up their defense,” Sagula said. “The ball was down before they could defend it.”
McPherson would continue to be a reliable target during the second set, which UNC took 25-16.
Sagula said that his confidence in McPherson stems from her strong performances in practice and the connection she has with the setters.
That connection was especially obvious in the third set.
Her three early kills helped her team to an 11-8 lead, and her presence late in the set helped stave off a Wake Forest comeback and seal the Tar Heels’ 25-21 victory.
McPherson said nerves were not an issue in her first start.
“I really try not to let myself get nervous to begin with, and that’s how I’ve always been,” McPherson said. “I didn’t come into the game nervous. I was just more excited.”
The strong win against Wake Forest, along with recent victories over Duke, Boston College, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech, will give McPherson and her teammates plenty of confidence going into upcoming weekend matches to round out the regular season.
Sagula said he believes his team is looking good for the remainder of the season.
“I think this is an indication that we’re peaking at the most important part of the season and that we’re playing our best volleyball,” Sagula said. “I want to see that we can be playing at the top of our game in all these matches — not just survive.”
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