The Tar Heels found themselves down a set twice during the duration of the match. They went on runs and overcame the deficit each time. It took a total team effort to come back in five sets, with each player contributing in little ways.
Redshirt sophomore Katharine Esterley led the team with seven blocks and sophomore Aristea Tontai followed closely behind with six. First-year Destiny Cox had eight of her 11 kills in the final two sets.
“When you go a five-set, and you play everything so close, it is hard to say one person stood out,” head coach Joe Sagula said.
Bell was crucial when called upon. With the score tied 12-12 in the fifth set, she had two kills and a combined block with redshirt sophomore Hunter Atherton to help get the final three points and capture the victory.
“It’s been really exciting to see the growth we’ve had and how we’ve come together through a difficult season," said Bell, who had 15 kills and a team-high .424 hitting percentage. "And I can’t help but thank my teammates for keeping us all united and keeping us encouraged.”
A long match can take the energy out of a team. But Atherton rejuvenated her teammates as the spark plug. With 38 of her team's 47 assists, she was always the first person screaming and yelling when the Tar Heels made a big play.
“I try really hard to keep my energy up all the time and be really leveled when things are going bad," Atherton said. "My team really helps me do that. If they weren’t making great plays or talking to me during the game, I wouldn’t be able to keep that energy up.”
Atherton slammed two massive kills during the fourth set with the Tar Heels’ backs against the wall. Her spike energized the entire UNC sideline and fueled the team to a comeback win.
This season has not been easy for the Tar Heels. It would seem like the morale of the team is low. This was not the case on Saturday.
“Everyday we come to practice stoked,” Bell said. “We are just excited to play and compete.”
When you looked at the sideline on Saturday, it was clear the players were enjoying themselves. They were dancing, singing and cheering on each other. Their head coach was pleased.
“They haven’t hung their heads,” Sagula said. “Nobody is happy with the record, but everyone has come everyday and worked hard, so that’s to me as a coach, is all I could ask for.”
To some, it may seem like a meaningless game. To the Tar Heels, the win meant so much more.
@ryanheller23 | @DTHSports