Including Sunday’s match, she’s hit double digit kills in each of the past four games. All four have been UNC wins.
“She’s starting to turn into a go-to attacker,” Neuenfeldt said. “It’s been great to see her evolve as a fierce competitor for our team.”
Leath missed the 2014 season while continuing to recover from a torn ACL. While she couldn’t join her teammates on the court, she took the advice of then-redshirt senior Chaniel Nelson — who also missed a season due to injury — to heart. Nelson told her to soak up as much knowledge as she could from the bench.
With a year to watch and learn, Leath’s ascent has been accelerated this season.
“Although physically the game is a lot faster, I think mentally I was a little bit more acclimated,” she said.
Leath says Sagula has also been key in her ascent. He and the staff gave her more playing time early in September to let her push through the wall early.
Now she’s a steady part of the UNC rotation. Leath and Sagula talk constantly about how to refine the young outside hitter’s game.
“My efforts are very concentrated on certain aspects of my game, and as one thing comes he’ll tell me something new,” Leath said. “I’m not trying to do anything incredible or take it all in at one time, I’m just taking it step by step.”
With most opponents focusing on the dominating duo of Neuenfeldt and senior Victoria McPherson in the middle, the Tar Heels have had a need for a dominant outside hitter all season.
“In the game of volleyball when it comes down to it, pins win games, middles don’t really,” Neuenfeldt said. “We can help and we can hold blocks, but at the end of the game ... the outsides get the ball.”
Leath has helped fill that role for the Tar Heels. She drops the hammer on opponents with her high vertical and powerful arm. She has 125 kills so far this season — good for the fifth-best mark on the team.
Her breakout has come at just the right time. Alongside redshirt junior Taylor Treacy and senior Leigh Andrew, Leath has played a crucial role in UNC’s 10-2 record in ACC play, including a 3-1 win against co-leader Louisville on Friday.
“Her emergence has allowed us to win,” Sagula said.
With eight games left in conference play and still in the hunt for the ACC title, the Tar Heels hope Leath can continue her ascent and make November even better than October has been.
“She’s been consistent, she’s shown up, she’s shown she can put the ball away,” Neuenfeldt said. “It’s awesome to see and really helpful looking forward to the future.”