After a tough road loss at Virginia Tech to conclude its 2019-20 season, the North Carolina volleyball team is seeking redemption.
Coming off of a losing 2018 season, the Tar Heels proved their ability to come back this past year, impressively defeating No. 23 Florida State from an 0-2 set deficit.
With only one senior on the roster, UNC will aim to transform this young team into one that can compete for an ACC Championship.
Senior middle blocker Aristea Tontai led the Tar Heels in hitting percentage, aces and total blocks last season. Her crucial role in the North Carolina offense was highlighted in both matches against Syracuse and Virginia Tech, in which she totaled 10 kills each. Her aggressive offense could be an asset to North Carolina as it enters the upcoming season.
The Tar Heels continue their middle attacks with sophomore Skyy Howard. During her first-year campaign, Howard garnered an average of 1.57 kills per set and ranked 10th in the ACC for blocks per set. A powerhouse swing combined with a sky-high vertical means Howard could continue to be a force in the middle for the Tar Heels.
Junior Destiny Cox proved herself to be a strong presence on the right side. Last season, Cox tallied double-digit kills in five matches, boasting an average of 1.72 kills per set on the season. Her ability to put away points could be necessary for North Carolina to have success this year.
Sophomore Parker Austin showed out her first-year season, tallying the second-most kills and third-most digs on the team. Austin posted double-digit kills in 15 matches, while also recording double-digit digs in seven matches. Austin’s stellar offense in combination with her defensive skills will help carry the Tar Heels through their upcoming season.
In her first year, sophomore Karenna Wurl showed the strength of the Tar Heel defense. Ranking second on the team in digs, Wurl posted an average of 2.41 digs per set. She earned the libero role at rival Duke, where she totaled a season-best record of 22 digs. Wurl also proved herself to be a weapon behind the service line — she boasted a single-match best of five aces in UNC's match at UC-Irvine last year and ranked fourth on the team in aces. Wurl’s defensive reads and discipline will be an asset to the North Carolina counterattack.
New to the Tar Heel defense is first-year Sydney Reed. Reed joins UNC as a player with noteworthy training experience. She was one of three liberos selected to the U.S. Women's Junior National Team Training Roster and played as a member of the USA National Training Team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Reed earned accolades including 2019-20 Virginia State Gatorade Player of the Year and Prep Volleyball High School All-American during her high school campaign. Seeing what Reed will bring to the Tar Heel defense this season is worth looking out for.
The Tar Heels will open their season facing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Sept. 24. Due to safety and health concerns around COVID-19, no nonconference matches will be played this season, and the schedule is significantly reduced to limit direct contact. North Carolina will face Virginia and N.C. State in mid-October, and the matches against rival Duke are scheduled for the end of October to conclude the Tar Heels’ season.
Finishing 2019 with a 12-6 conference record, North Carolina is shaping up to dominate an abbreviated — but tough — season.
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