After a close five-set, come-from-behind win at Michigan on Sunday, the North Carolina volleyball team quickly returned to the floor in Tuesday's home match against Elon.
The Tar Heels started off slowly and, at one point, trailed 18-13 in the first set. But then they began to lock in, tying the score at 20 before three consecutive spikes by graduate hitter Nia Robinson gave them a 25-23 win. After that, the momentum of the match shifted, and UNC coasted to a comfortable sweep, holding Elon to only eight points in the final set.
“Our target is to play the best Carolina volleyball we can,” junior outside hitter Parker Austin said. “We realized that we weren’t playing to win, we were just playing to be there, so a change in mentality was huge.”
Once the team had the opportunity to regroup after a timeout, its play shifted nicely and helped to close out the first set.
“We definitely had a slow start to the game," Robinson said. "In the huddle, we reminded ourselves of our standards and managed to flip the set around, which is the sign of a really mature team.”
Robinson has been a crucial addition to UNC this year after her four years of experience as an outside hitter for Northwestern. On Tuesday, Robinson had 14 kills and finished all three sets with powerful spikes.
During her Northwestern career, Robinson was the team leader in hitting percentage at .423 for the 2020-2021 season. In 2019, she had 369 total kills and ranked 10th in the Big Ten with an average of 3.38 kills per set.
She continues to make an impact for the Tar Heels as both a player and a leader. Despite the transition to a new program, Robinson has been welcomed with open arms by her new teammates.
“Coming in, I knew it was probably going to be a challenge for me to figure out how I work in team dynamics after being at Northwestern for four years,” Robinson said. “I was definitely nervous but luckily for me, these are the best girls in the world. There are many different leaders on our team, and we do a good job of knowing when to lead and when to listen.”
Robinson’s presence and leadership has benefited the team thus far, as the Tar Heels have jumped out to a perfect 9-0 start.
“The biggest thing that Nia has added is her maturity and invaluable experience as a four-year go-to player at Northwestern,” head coach Joe Sagula said. “She knows how to compete at a very high level and has been such a great model to the whole team for how to navigate being a student-athlete.”
The impressive record marks UNC's best start to a season since 2013. The team even received 22 votes to be included in the top 25.
“The news is something exciting to be noted, but it’s out of our control,” Robinson said. “We can control how hard we work in the gym every single day, so that’s what we focus on.”
The Tar Heels work hard on and off the court to develop confidence and trust in each other. The depth of the team continues to develop as the season progresses, which is crucial for the upcoming ACC conference matches.
“With volleyball, there are a lot of ups and downs, so we work on being consistent,” Robinson said. “For the team to be playing the best volleyball we can and reach our potential is our main goal.”
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