The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 26th

UNC volleyball blending youth and experience in historic 11-0 start

In the Sept. 18 game against Davidson, junior middle blocker Niki Khoshatefeh (6) serves the ball. UNC won three out of three sets.
Buy Photos In the Sept. 18 game against Davidson, junior middle blocker Niki Khoshatefeh (6) serves the ball. UNC won three out of three sets.

11-0 is a record only one other squad in the 51-year history of the North Carolina volleyball team has been able to reach. 

With a win against Davidson on Saturday, the 2021 team made history and joined that exclusive club.

The early season winning streak featured two dramatic come-from-behind wins against Colorado State and Michigan.

In the Colorado State game, North Carolina dropped the first two sets before winning the third set handily. In the fourth set and fifth set, it was a back-and-forth battle between the two teams, with the Tar Heels holding on in both sets to win. In the latter game, UNC and Michigan traded the first two sets before Michigan won the third set and obtained a 21-17 lead in the fourth. 

With the Tar Heels' perfect season threatened, head coach Joe Sagula called a timeout.

“I just said we’re going to have to keep playing really hard and try to make some breaks,” Sagula said. “If we just do what we can do and control outside of the court and take some good swings right now, we can upset the rhythm of Michigan.”

UNC did just what Sagula said to do and made a run against Michigan, coming back from the four-point deficit to win the set, 25-23. The Tar Heels eventually took the fifth set, won the match and again kept their perfect season alive.

Experience brought in from graduate transfers has been a part of the reason North Carolina has been able to manufacture these comeback attempts and pull out close games this year.

Graduate outside hitter Nia Robinson is one of these players that encompasses both qualities as she came to the North Carolina program from Northwestern this past year.

“We focus a lot on mindfulness, just being in the moment and staying in the moment and not focusing on the score but winning each individual point and what can you do at that point to win,“ Robinson said. “I think that’s what’s really helped us, along with some great cheering and energy.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the Tar Heels have a first-year that has been an integral part of the 11-0 start – first-year outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster. Combined with Robinson, they provide UNC with a duo of dangerous, dynamic players. What gives them an even greater connection is the fact they both played on the same club volleyball team in Indiana.

“They demand from each other, and that relationship is fantastic," Sagula said. "I couldn’t have asked for a better situation, they make each other better, they challenge each other.”

Of course, you don’t win 11 straight games just off pure talent and luck — you must have confidence in who you are as a team as well.

With experience on the team and players who have bought into Sagula’s long-term vision for the program, confidence in what is being built in Carmichael Arena isn’t a hard thing to find.

“I think we play our game, and we play our system, and we know what we’re doing,"  junior outside hitter Parker Austin said. "I think we’re unstoppable.”

Heading into ACC play, UNC will have new challenges in the form of nationally prominent conference foes. But after a perfect non-conference slate, if the Tar Heels' immense confidence in themselves is any indicator, this might just be a sign of bigger things to come. 

@noahmnroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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