The lights were bright and the stands were packed Friday night at the Smith Center, but it wasn’t for the men’s basketball team, which usually takes the court.
It was the volleyball team locked in for an ACC matchup against Virginia Tech, looking to right its season before Late Night With Roy.
The match's official attendance was 19,246, which set a new record for the largest crowd in NCAA volleyball history. The previous record of 17,651 was set during the 2015 national title match between Nebraska and Texas in Omaha, Neb.
The energy was electric throughout the stadium, as fans donned favorite Tar Heel colors and quickly jumped to their feet when “Jump Around” blasted from the speakers overhead.
The men’s basketball team even got involved themselves as they sat courtside, and guards Joel Berry II and Kenny Williams served as ball boys during the match. Taylor Leath was amazed by the moment, as the team hadn't played a match before Late Night with Roy since 2013.
“It was awesome," she said. "There are very few words for the moment. It's just awesome to play in the Dean Dome and to win and to make Tar Heel fans proud.”
North Carolina started out slow on the first set, as it has most of the season, and eventually lost the set, 25-22. The slow pace carried over to the second set as well, but halfway through, the crowd backed up their team with multiple chants and the Tar Heels won the set, 25-21.
The last point even included the fans chanting "UNC" with each hit by the team until the set was won. North Carolina dominated the next two sets by scores of 25-20 and 25-16 to win the match, 3-1. Head coach Joe Sagula knew the impact the environment would have on his team when the players arrived at the arena.
“To drive up to the Smith Center and before you even walk in here and seeing people lining up ... we are realists here, they are not only here to see us," he said. "But that gave us a thrill. To walk out into and see what, 8,000 people already in the stands, I think that was good.”
Sagula even noticed the excitement the crowd showed for the sport, pointing one moment out in particular.
“At one point during the match, I turned and saw somebody I had never seen before talking to someone else, making an arm strength move like they are talking about what it looks like to get a kill,” he said. “So I could tell they appreciated that type of athletic move and the power behind that.”
The team faced a big injury challenge this week. Sagula reported the team had only eight players able to practice Thursday, and three players who played Friday night did not practice the previous day.
“I have to say I applaud a lot of the players who fought through tonight, from stomach viruses and things like that,” he said. “I want to say how proud I am, that’s a big thing for tonight. Everybody should know how proud I am and how tough it was in the match.”
The match marked a turn in the season for the Tar Heels, as they had won five out of their last six games as of Friday, and were above .500 again. The team now faces a slate of ACC games to finish its season and after Friday night's momentum, Sagula hopes his team can build on the win.
“I think after tonight we’ve done everything we can to keep ourselves on track to make a run,” he said. “We’ve got some tough road matches but right now we are going to take it one match at a time."
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