For the third straight year, North Carolina’s volleyball team (25-5, 16-4) will compete in the NCAA Tournament and will face familiar foe — California.
No. 24 UNC will play the Golden Bears Thursday at 6 p.m. in Ames, Iowa, in the tournament’s first round.
UNC beat Cal 3-2 in 2011 in the first round after falling to the Golden Bears 3-0 in the second round of the 2010 tournament.
“It’s kind of funny that we end up playing them three years in a row, but we can’t look at them considering that,” junior Kayla Berringer said. “Cal is just another opponent we’re meeting in the steps we need to take to get to our goal.”
The goal is to go further in the postseason than any team in program history.
In UNC’s 14 trips to the tournament, no team has ever made it past the quarterfinals.
But this UNC team sports a much different lineup than the last two Tar Heel squads.
UNC started using a 6-2 lineup mid-season this year — keeping three hitters on the court — as opposed to a more traditional 5-1 lineup, which has only one setter and fewer go-to hitters.
“We have really strong middles this year who have made that position more powerful and … helped the 6-2 work,” Berringer said.
Though it’s a different lineup, 10 Tar Heels have been in the tournament before.
“What I feel good about is that this group is on its third straight tournament berth and we know this opponent,” coach Joe Sagula said. “I’m confident in their ability to be ready for an NCAA match.”
The Bears come into the matchup with a 15-15 record and earned an at-large berth in the tournament. But the Tar Heels know that in the postseason anything can happen.
“At any point … you’re going to be playing a tough team,” senior Emily McGee said. “No matter how they got in or what their record is, everyone has a chance.”
But that uncertain nature of the tournament also leaves room for unexpected victories.
“A lot of teams have been upset, and a lot of teams have been upsetting,” she said. “This year is exciting.”
“In past years, you knew who the powerhouse was, it was easier to predict what was going to happen in the tournament. Going in this year, it seems more like anyone could be a Cinderella story.”
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