After winning its match against Virginia on Saturday, the North Carolina volleyball team completed the weekend sweep on Sunday, beating the Cavaliers 3-1 and bringing its final record to 6-2. With Sunday's win, the Tar Heels finished third in the ACC, tied with Duke.
Because this would be the Tar Heels’ last match of the season, they entered the game expecting to leave it all on the court. Both teams were statistically nearly even on defense, with nine blocks a piece and a modest difference in digs, but the offense was where UNC separated itself.
“I was just thinking, ‘Be aggressive and swing.’ I wasn’t trying to tip or give any easy balls, I thought I should just go for it,” sophomore Carly Peck said.
Peck's attacking mentality showed on the court, especially in the fourth set when the Tar Heels needed it most. She tallied eight kills in the final set alone, including two consecutive kills at the end to win the set and the match.
“(Peck is) someone who hasn’t been a big part of the offense earlier," head coach Joe Sagula said. "She’s been playing right-side hitter and we moved her to left-side hitter, so I would say she definitely stood out.”
Going into the game, Sagula wanted to try to get the ball more to the middle hitters, junior Amanda Phegley and first-year Kaya Merkler. UNC was successful with the middles hitting behind the setter, but when Virginia made adjustments, Sagula had to respond with offensive changes.
“We found that our left-side hitters, Aziah (Buckner) and Carly, could step up and do a good job, and that really balanced things out,” Sagula said. “At the end, Carly and Aziah were so good, and that’s what helped both Amanda and Kaya at the end of that set.”
Ultimately, it was the setters who created such a flexible and dominant offense. Annabelle Archer and Maylen Mitrovich spread the offense and avoided repetition, distributing the ball to several different players in spots all over their side of the court. The unpredictability of UNC’s offense caused havoc for Virginia’s defense.
“I think our setters did a great job when they needed to, especially at the end,” Sagula said. “The growth of our team rests in the hands, literally, of our setters. We’re gonna build on this going into the spring season coming up.”
The Tar Heels’ offense was persistent, even under pressure. UNC went down 7-2 at the start of the fourth set and trailed Virginia until tying the game at 17. From that point forward, the teams went back and forth, alternating points until Peck hammered two consecutive kills to seal the set victory, 25-23.
“When it was (tied at) 23, we did something a little different,” Sagula said. “We called what we call a two-ball in the middle to Peck, something that they wouldn’t expect, and it scored. We just told the team to compete, to be aggressive and take a big swing.”
Buckner and Peck said the confidence comes from wanting to win for each other. On Sunday, that meant working as a team on the offensive end.
“As a team, we just went all out,” Buckner, a first-year, said. “We had a rocky first start, but now we all have been competing really hard and trying to win together instead of just by ourselves. It was really just about listening to my teammates and what they were telling me was open; I think that really helped me execute the shots a lot.”
This mentality showed on the court on Sunday and will stay with the Tar Heels as they look forward to the spring season.
“For us, it's just knowing how much we love each other and how hard we work in practice every day, and knowing how good we deserve to play and should demand from ourselves and each other,” Peck said. “It’s just doing things to remind ourselves to find joy in what we do and love the game and let go of everything else."
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