But with new techniques, mistakes are inevitable. When the toss went a little too far out in front, Fricano reacted. She took a few quick steps and struck the ball at an awkward angle.
The ball snuck over the net and hit the ground right in front of the Virginia defense. Ace.
“Honestly, it slipped off the fingers and I was like, ‘I have to go get this ball,’" Fricano said. "So I went, and it turned out great. It got everyone super excited, I got super excited. And then after that, I felt like I was in practice.”
It was the turning point of the match. With Fricano serving, the Tar Heels proceeded to go on a 6-0 run that ballooned their lead to 22-13. Four of those six points were aces by Fricano.
With each point, the entire team got looser and more energized. UNC won the second set handily and remained in control throughout the third set to complete its 14th sweep of the season.
“I’m a really goofy person — you can probably tell," Fricano said. "When that ball was out there in front of me, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. And then my team couldn’t believe it either."
"So everyone was smiling, everyone was cheering, and it was like this second wind of energy.”
Coach Joe Sagula was hoping to see one of his veteran players step up, but even he was a little surprised at Fricano — who had only 12 aces all season before Friday night.
“I asked my assistant, ‘Is it her birthday today?’" he said. "It started with a really bad toss, and she ran after it and was aggressive and took a bad toss and made it into an ace."
"When she did that, I think it put her on a roll.”
Within that same run, another Tar Heel stepped up. Junior Beth Nordhorn — who finished the match with eight kills, a .438 hitting percentage and just one error — was responsible for the second of those six consecutive points in the Tar Heels' second-set run.
She too realized how important the run was for Fricano and the team.
“That felt really good,” she said. “It was fun having Fric serving all those balls, of course.”
Sagula praised Fricano and Nordhorn, both middle hitters, for their play Friday night and in recent games.
“Those two have helped us significantly down this stretch of the season," he said. "We’re getting so much more offense from that middle combined. Fricano and Nordhorn have worked hard and they’re seeing the results of that work.”
By the end of the match, Fricano led both teams with five aces and seven blocks. She also had six kills on a .625 hitting percentage.
The Tar Heels defeated Virginia behind the experienced Fricano — and enjoyed themselves in the process.
“Fric's such an energetic person,” Nordhorn said. “You can see her silly, goofy energy, too. It just makes it more fun.”