She wasn’t the only one to step up for the Tar Heels, though. Taylor Leath started the weekend quiet, combining for four kills and seven digs in UNC’s 3-0 sweeps of Georgia Southern and West Virginia. But the redshirt sophomore exploded against Penn State, leading the team with a career-high 18 kills and landing a spot on the All-Tournament team.
During UNC’s 7-0 comeback run, Leath spiked the ball to tie the set at 23 and teamed up with first-year Sydnye Fields for a block on the next point to give UNC a one-point edge.
“At that point, it was something I had to do,” Leath said of the plays. “I felt comfortable. I felt really confident in my game, and I had to step up.”
From there, Scoles returned to serve the final point.
“Going back to serve, I tried not to think about all the pressure that was on that particular point,” Scoles said.
She said she focused on hitting the ball high to give her team an advantage on the final point.
But she did more than that — she served an ace.
“That was a great exclamation point to that run,” Sagula said.
North Carolina went on to win the fifth set, 15-9, handing Penn State its first home loss to a nonconference opponent since 2011. The victory was UNC’s seventh win over a top-10 opponent in program history.
But it didn’t surprise Sagula.
“Going into the fifth set ... I think this team is going to win this match,” he said. “I felt like with that, pulling that come-from-behind win, that we were going to be in really good shape going into the fifth set.”
For Leath, her confidence in the final set came from her teammates who supported her even as she struggled in the previous two matches.
“I think that what really clicked for me was feeling like my teammates had my back,” Leath said. “They never at any point didn’t believe in me.”
And the game was an important one for Leath to shine in. She went to high school in State College, Pennsylvania and often practiced at Penn State’s campus.
“I was always around Penn State volleyball,” Leath said. “I was always going to the games. I knew a couple of the players, so it’s always been kind of a part of my childhood.”
Sagula said he was excited about what Leath accomplished, especially because of the pressure of playing a hometown game.
“I couldn’t be any prouder for her than I am,” Sagula said. “And just excited for her that she could do something like that.”
Sagula expressed pride for Scoles, who he said played like a veteran throughout the weekend. Scoles had eight kills in the sweep against Georgia Southern on Friday and led the team in kills (11) and digs (14) against West Virginia in the first game on Saturday.
After UNC dropped the first set to Penn State, Sagula said Scoles’ fierceness in the second set helped the team become more explosive than it was in a disappointing first set.
But the first-year didn’t see it that way.
“There’s not really any in particular plays where I’m like, ‘Wow I’m really proud,’” Scoles said. “But there’s definitely a lot of plays where I’m like, ‘Wow, I definitely could have done a better job with that.’”
Sagula and Scoles did agree on one thing about her play: optimism. Scoles is eager to improve, and Sagula is excited to watch the young player grow.
“She was clutch every time,” Sagula said. “That’s a sign of a really great player, great competitor, great maturity.”