With two wins over the weekend, UNC advances to the round of 16 for the second time in school history and finishes 16-0 in Carmichael Arena this season.
“(Saturday) was a special night for this team,” Sagula said. “For us to get to this point — we’ve wanted to be relevant and I think we’ve made a statement on how North Carolina can be a nationally competitive program.”
In the first round against Hampton on Friday, UNC had little trouble. The Tar Heels put up a .300 hitting percentage and added 12 service aces.
But against Southern California in the second round Saturday, the Tar Heels faced a much tougher test. The Trojans took the first set by notching 17 kills and a .256 attack percentage. But UNC remained patient and kept chipping away. And eventually, the Tar Heels were rewarded.
UNC won the next two sets by a combined four points and emphatically shut down the Trojans in the match-clinching fourth set by holding them to a .083 hitting percentage.
“I think we began to limit our errors throughout the game and focused more on the things we can control,” redshirt senior Chaniel Nelson said. “Coach always says that we don’t want to give teams points. We don’t want to help them beat us.”
UNC has lost in the second round of the tournament three out of the past four years. To Lauren McAdoo and the rest of the seniors on roster, getting over the hump couldn’t be more satisfying.
“It’s one of the best feelings we’ve ever experienced at Carolina,” McAdoo said. “Every year it is disappointing to lose in either the first or second round and it has been a goal to get to the Sweet 16.
“These wins show the heart and fight of this team. Through all adversity, we just stuck with our goal and fought through it together.”
UNC will now head to Minneapolis to play 10th seeded Oregon in the Sweet 16 on Friday.
And even though the Tar Heels have not been to the Round of 16 since 2002, Sagula does not expect his team to fold — quite the opposite.
“We’ve never been just happy to be here," Sagula said. “We talk about wanting to go further. Three weekends. Three weekends of NCAA play and this is the first.
“So we’re talking about going as far as we can go and play our best volleyball.”