In his 26th season as the North Carolina volleyball coach, Joe Sagula leads one of the nation’s most talented recruiting classes. The No. 12 Tar Heels boast an undefeated start to the season, knocking off No. 13 Penn State on the Nittany Lions’ home court. Sagula spoke with staff writer Sam Doughton about why he thinks the team’s success will continue.
THE DAILY TAR HEEL: The team had a successful opening tournament to start the year. What were the keys to the team starting off strong?
JOE SAGULA: First of all, I thought our defense was good. Preseason, our defense really impressed me how relentless they were, how hard they went after the ball ... The second thing is, we’re a different team than we were last year. We could put the ball down at the outside hitting position, the pins ... If we’re not passing well, we can still put pressure on the opponent by putting the ball in play and taking really aggressive swings. And the third thing is something that’s become something we’re really good at, and that’s our blocking. We block double digits every match, and the most significant one was the win against Penn State. There were over ten blocks per match. I thought that was great. If we do those things, we’re gonna be in most matches.
DTH: Julia Scoles, Taylor Treacy and Taylor Leath got the headlines after the weekend. Who did you think had a great tournament that maybe flew under the radar a bit?
JS: The three hitters get the attention, but without question we don’t win without the play of (seniors) Sheila Doyle, Abby Curry (and) Tatiana Durr. When we needed to pass well, Tati was clutch for us. Sheila was digging balls for us all the time and set the tone. And then the other person I think is our middle hitters. (Redshirt first-year) Sydnye Fields had a fantastic weekend. Ten blocks (against Penn State), and she’s averaging right now over two blocks per set, which is unheard of. I mean normally if you’re averaging about 0.9 or 1.0 that’s phenomenal. She’s averaging over two. Now if those numbers are like that a month from now, I’m pretty excited.