Yet, untimely miscues and inconsistency doomed UNC. The Tar Heels recorded 24 attack errors, “eight to 10 were not necessary,” according to Sagula.
In the third set, UNC appeared to have the Fighting Irish on the ropes, only to see the visitors end on an 8-3 run.
“We haven’t learned how to close out,” Sagula said.
Sandwiched in between a poor start and finish were stretches of good play from the Tar Heels.
Setter Hunter Atherton, a Nebraska transfer who won a national title last year with the Cornhuskers, helped run the Tar Heel offense, recording 31 assists. Sagula commended Atherton for her effort, which was showcased when she tumbled dangerously into the press table to keep a rally alive.
Atherton thought she and her teammates looked good once they got going, but also recognized the need for better a start, referencing the team’s inexperience.
“There were some good parts and some bad parts, but we’re really young as a team, and there’s a lot of newness,” she said. “Even though we’ve had some games together, it’s still very new, and there’s a lot of maturing that we still have yet to go.”
UNC got into a groove offensively in the final two sets thanks to the the duo of opposite hitters Skylar Wine, a Pacific transfer, and Madison Laufenberg, one of the team’s three seniors. Together, the two came off the bench and recorded a combined 16 kills and only four errors.
“Off the bench, you know, it’s just as important as starting,” Laufenberg said. “It’s just however you can come in and contribute. I’m going to try to do my best with whatever role.”
Sagula was pleased with Atherton and Laufenberg’s performances, but said, “We need to have a more of a consistent play across the whole team for us to be good.”
While Sagula’s plea for consistency applies to all of his players, the performance of highly regarded first-year outside hitter Destiny Cox illustrated his point. Thanks to the power behind her spikes, Cox led the Tar Heels with 12 kills but also had 11 errors.
“She lit it up. She’s probably one of the most dynamic players in the gym,” Sagula said. “Her and (Notre Dame’s) Jemma Yeadon, No. 12 for them. Those kids are dynamic. Destiny was our go-to, and all of a sudden when you want that consistent play at the end, you’d like to get that. That comes from the lack of experience at this level.”
UNC will attempt to remedy its problem with slow starts and pick up its first conference win when hosting Louisville on Sunday at 1 p.m.
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