The North Carolina volleyball team is rolling, winning 11 straight sets — and matches — to the tune of a perfect start to the regular season.
After sweeping Elon and Charlotte earlier in the week, the Tar Heels picked up right where they left off on Saturday in a decisive 3-0 victory against Davidson.
Following the win, graduate right side hitter Emily Zinger expressed her confidence in the team’s ability.
“I think we expected to do it (go undefeated in non-conference play),” Zinger said. “I think we had that cocky confidence that we talked about as a team. It was more of an expectation that we knew was reachable.”
Fellow graduate student and outside hitter Nia Robinson shared Zinger’s confidence, and each exuded it on the court while putting together performances that fueled the Tar Heels. Robinson registered 13 kills with a hit percentage of 42.9, while Zinger made 10 kills with a hit percentage of 50. Robinson attributed the team's relentlessness to her and the team’s strong performance against the Wildcats.
“That’s a really scrappy team, so just relentless pursuit is kind of our mindset with that,” Robinson said. “If you got a good swing, they were going to dig it up, so you had to be on all your cylinders to keep getting those good swings.”
Zinger credited the front row’s success against Davidson to finding the open areas of the court to hit to and the back row calling shots to her. Although Robinson and Zinger’s impact is evident after a glance at the box score, it’s even more apparent watching the game.
With Robinson and Zinger on the floor, the Tar Heels made 7-0, 5-0 and 4-0 runs. Without them, UNC struggled to find consistent offense and allowed Davidson to go on big scoring runs, such as the Wildcats' 5-0 run that put them up 21-19 late in the third set. The duo was on the floor after falling behind and made key contributions to the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind third-set victory.
“Nia is a go-to player,” UNC head coach Joe Sagula said. “We know when it comes to crunch time, she’s going to get the ball. You need a go-to player on your team.
The Tar Heels aren’t a particularly old team — they only have six seniors and fifth-years excluding Robinson and Zinger — so many of the regular rotation players still have time left to have success in college. Robinson and Zinger don’t — it’s now or never.
“Emily has been an improving player, and her size and her presence at the net; we know she’s going to be able to shut down an opponent,” Sagula said. “We have all the confidence that if the defense keys on Nia, they can throw it back to Emily, and she can score as well.”
With high expectations and an unblemished record, the Tar Heels will need to continue to rely upon the strong play, determination and leadership of their front-row fifth-year duo. Heading into a tough ACC schedule, other challenges await, but none the experienced leaders haven't faced before.
“Every day is so important because they know this is their last year playing college volleyball, so they bring that urgency and make the team want to play well right now,” Sagula said. “For a team to be successful, it’s not one day of being good — it’s every day.”