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The Daily Tar Heel

Joe Sagula's N.C. Volleyball Hall of Fame induction shocks no one but himself

volleyball 800th win
Coach Joe Sagula and the Tar Heels in Carmichael Arena on Nov. 4, 2018. Photo courtesy of Brian Faggin Batista.

The announcement that UNC volleyball head coach Joe Sagula would be inducted into the North Carolina Volleyball Hall of Fame wasn't a surprise to anyone.

Except Joe Sagula.

At the end of the Tar Heels' practice last Tuesday, a number of guests snuck in the back entrance of Carmichael Arena. Among them: Dick Baddour, former UNC athletic director, Beth Miller, former senior associate AD, and Bubba Cunningham, current AD — plus Jim Ross, president of the USA Volleyball Carolina Region. 

For the past two months, members of Sagula's staff had kept the news of his pending induction from him. When Ross finally told Sagula in front of his players, staff and former associates, he was floored — not just because of the honor, but because of the secrecy surrounding it.

"I was surprised," Sagula said. "It's hard to keep a secret around me, because I usually have my hand in everything that happens."

Sagula was heavily involved in the program's Alumni Weekend plans, but other staff members were able to keep the news from him until the Tuesday surprise. Five days later, on UNC's Alumni Day, the Tar Heels swept Boston College, with Sagula honored before the match in front of a collection of former players. 

"I was amazed that I never found out," he continued. "I was pleasantly surprised. And I'm just so honored, how much hard work they put in to keeping it a secret."

Sagula will be the first coach to be inducted into the N.C. Volleyball Hall of Fame, having collected seven ACC Championships and the conference's Coach of the Year honor five times. At the end of this year, he'll join more rare company: the group of UNC legends, including Dean Smith, Anson Dorrance and Karen Shelton, that have coached 30 seasons at North Carolina.

“He's a very loving guy,” first-year Parker Austin said after the game Sunday. “He really cares about us as people, more than just volleyball players."

Sagula arrived in Chapel Hill to, as he puts it, "humble beginnings." He started here with a staff of one part-time assistant that has since ballooned to include two full-time assistants, a director of operations, a volunteer assistant and some undergraduate assistants.

When asked about how he's changed in that time, Sagula said "every way possible." 

"We've changed since last year, how we do things on the court," he said. "I've changed on how we teach the game a little bit, in terms of the system and technique."

Sagula's also become a better recruiter, more efficient in using practice time and, crucially, a better delegator.

"I've learned how to say, 'Here, you do it,' and trust that it's gonna get done well," he said.

That growth is a big reason for his new status as a Hall of Famer, a distinction that Sagula himself had trouble processing. 

"To be honest, my reaction for the first hour after was just kind of like, 'Whoa, what's really going on here?'" Sagula said. "I was really kind of numb to it emotionally."

"I shed a tear or two ... afterward, I was speechless," he continued. "Which is hard for me to be. I tend to ramble."

The honor didn't yet make sense to him, but it did to everyone around him, from alumni and former associates to his current players and staff.

One more person who got the news before Sagula was his wife, who played dumb upon his return from work Tuesday night.

"I came home and she was all, 'How was your day?'" Sagula said.

"I was like, 'You know how the day was.'"

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