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Sunday September 19th

These three UNC athletes look primed for breakout seasons this spring

UNC sophomore outside hitter Carly Peck (13) strikes the ball during a set against Virginia during a game against the University of Virginia in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. UNC finished their season that night with A 3-1 win.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore outside hitter Carly Peck (13) strikes the ball during a set against Virginia during a game against the University of Virginia in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. UNC finished their season that night with A 3-1 win.

North Carolina running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams dominated headlines last fall when they earned their way onto the national stage as an All-American backfield pairing.

People enjoy watching in awe as someone other than the Michael Jordans or Tom Bradys of a team step into the spotlight for an impressive breakout season à la Carter and Williams. 

With UNC's spring sports gearing up in Chapel Hill, here are three athletes who could be poised to solidify themselves as leaders over the next few months.

Carly Peck — Volleyball

With star outside hitter Destiny Cox transferring to Texas A&M following the end of UNC's volleyball season this fall, sophomore outside hitter Carly Peck should be primed to take over a much larger role.

Peck appeared in 26 matches as a true first-year and started in five of them. She racked up 116 kills and finished with the fifth-most total blocks on the team (46) while spending time at the same position as Cox in 2019.

The former ACC Freshman of the Week has carried that momentum into her sophomore year during the fall portion of the 2020 season, earning 11 total blocks in 26 sets to go with her 133 total attacks. 

With Cox no longer in the picture, it seems all but guaranteed that Peck could have a monster conclusion to the 2020-2021 season this spring.

Austin Love — Baseball

After redshirting in 2018, right-handed pitcher Austin Love threw a stellar debut season for the Tar Heels out of the bullpen in 2019.

Love dished out 67 strikeouts and just 25 walks in 67 innings pitched en route to a .216 opponents batting average and a team-best 3.09 ERA. He even showed he could go longer on the mound on a few occasions when he gave up just one run and struck out six batters in 6.1 innings against Miami in the ACC Tournament.

The right-hander didn't let up in 2020 either, with his most impressive outing coming in a 3-0 loss to a talented Dallas Baptist team. Love allowed only two hits and one run through 5.2 innings and retired nine hitters in his best performance of the abbreviated season.

With a longer-than-normal offseason to rest his arm and improve his stuff, Love looks like he's on the verge of having a dominant 2021 campaign on the mound in Boshamer Stadium.

Chris Gray — Lacrosse

Sure, one could make the argument that Chris Gray, a senior attackman on the UNC men's lacrosse team, doesn't exactly fit the criteria as a candidate for a breakout season after he burst on the scene in Chapel Hill with 27 goals and 21 assists in the shortened 2020 season.

But, just consider his potential now that the transfer from Boston University has had more time at North Carolina to bond with his new UNC teammates.

His 48 total points in 2020 were already 19 more than junior attackman Nicky Solomon's second-place 29 points. Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season, Gray was No. 2 in the nation in goals per game at 6.86.

We know what the benchmark for Gray is when he has a full season to work with. A Patriot League record 111 points and a Tewaaraton Award nomination two years ago, in one of the best individual seasons a college lacrosse player has ever had, are enough evidence of his abilities.

Now that he's had the last year and change with the Tar Heels to learn his teammates' tendencies and improve his own game, though, it's not outlandish to think that Gray couldn't have a record-breaking year in the 2021 campaign.

@McMastersJ

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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