“There were moments when we didn’t play Carolina volleyball,” senior setter Abigail Curry said.
Although the Tar Heels had a whopping 28 block assists, UCLA’s offense got the better of them. The Bruins tallied 76 kills, including 23 in the fourth and final set of the match.
Not many of those kills came easily, though — every UNC player was active and running in a win-or-go-home match. Senior Sheila Doyle and first-year Julia Scoles both had near collisions with the sideline press tables while sprinting after errant balls.
"I’m really proud of the hustle,” Curry said. “We never gave up.”
“Everyone went for it — every ball — until the end.”
Coach Joe Sagula praised his seniors for their passion in what turned out to be the last match of their careers.
“I’m just proud of how hard they fought and the leadership from Shelia and Abbey,” he said. “They were constantly making plays for us throughout the night and really brought us together.”
Neither team won a set by more than three points. It was an intense match with plenty of opportunities — and Sagula knew it.
“I thought we did everything we could against a really tough team tonight,” he said. “It was one of those matches I think could have gone either way.”
“At any point in these sets, our team could have easily given up or folded. They had a lot of fight tonight.”
A loss in the Sweet 16 was no doubt a disappointing way to end such a successful season. But as the Tar Heels walked off the court for the final time this year, they took a slew of awards and records with them.
UNC finished 2016 with a school-record 661 block assists and a .273 hitting percentage, the second-best in school history. North Carolina earned its highest AVCA ranking (6) and NCAA Tournament seed (7) in school history. And redshirt junior Taylor Fricano had 142 block assists on the year, tying a record that had stood for 16 years.
The Tar Heels will also bring back the ACC Player of the Year in Taylor Leath, the ACC Freshman of the Year in Scoles and the ACC Coach of the Year in Sagula.
And if you were to take everything away — the awards, the statistics, the wins — the team would still leave an indelible mark.
“This team has been different from any team I’ve been on,” Doyle said. “The coaches have talked about it all year long — that these 19 girls on the team are going to get the job done.”
“Everyone really took that to heart. That’s something I’ve never been a part until this team — trust and willingness to put everything on the line and knowing everyone to your left or right has your back.”
It was bigger than volleyball. And Curry, who played in all 460 sets of her career, knew it wasn't over.
“This team is amazing," she said. "We fell short on our goal for volleyball, but we created a family.”
“And ultimately, that’s the most beautiful thing about this season.”