Paige Neuenfeldt ignites spark in UNC volleyball win over Florida State
If there was one thing that could match the energy of the 4,610-person crowd in Carmichael Arena during the No. 8 North Carolina volleyball team's 3-1 win over No. 3 Florida State (24-2, 12-2 ACC), it was Paige Neuenfeldt.
Neuenfeldt, a junior middle blocker, used what her teammates and coach can only describe as unmatchable charisma to lead the Tar Heels (22-2, 13-1 ACC) to their 13th-straight victory and defense of their home court.
Even with a remarkable short-serve ace in the first set, the first two sets weren’t Neuenfeldt’s to control, though. UNC took the first set 26-24 behind senior Chaniel Nelson’s seven kills, while Neuenfeldt only had two. And in the second set, which FSU took 25-19, Neuenfeldt had none.
But low statistics in the first two sets didn’t stop her from getting fired up. And they definitely didn’t stop her from dominating the last two.
In the third set, the Tar Heels were up 24-19 until a couple of kills by the Seminoles and an attack error by UNC brought the score to 24-22, and it was then that Neuenfeldt came to life.
“I was getting a little frustrated because I was like, ‘No, they’re not going to come back,’” she said. “I told JoJo (Jordyn Schnabl) to give me that next ball; I just said give it to me, and I saw the opening, and it was a perfect set, and it worked out perfectly.”
And suddenly, it was the Paige Neuenfeldt show.
In the huddle, her energy spread to the rest of the team as she got pumped up, ready to finish the game and unwilling to let Florida State pull off another fifth-set victory, like they had in seven other matches.
Early in the fourth set, it was clear that Neuenfeldt was not going to let the Seminoles come back. In the span of three points, she assisted on two blocks and had one kill that put UNC up 5-2.
Neuenfeldt's performance did not go unnoticed by anyone — the crowd, her coach or her teammates.
“Paige was a huge contributing factor to our success,” senior libero Ece Taner said. “And she is definitely a loud player. She communicates a lot and really helps me out in the back row. She just makes my job easier.”
Schnabl also agreed that the team couldn’t help but feed off Neuenfeldt’s positive energy.
“She just has such a positive energy that it makes me want to set her every ball,” she said. “And her face when she gets a kill or a block just lights up and it brings so much energy that I know we can’t lose when she’s out there.”
Neuenfeldt continued on to tally five kills, zero errors and four block assists in the final set, as well as three service aces over the course of the match, to lead the Tar Heels to victory and to the top of the ACC standings.
And at the end, even from the sidelines, it was Neuenfeldt who was cheering the hardest and jumping the highest.
Coach Joe Sagula believes that her best quality as a volleyball player is her fast arm — she gets up, hits and gets down before the other team even knows what is happening.
But her best quality as a person?
Her energy, of course.
“She’s just positive bubbly, upbeat, and she makes people live off her dynamic play,” Sagula said. “Everyone just likes Paige because of the energy she brings. We’re fortunate to have someone of that caliber on this team, and I am really fortunate to be her coach.”
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