Despite ending its unbeaten start to the season in a 3-1 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh on Friday night, the North Carolina volleyball team remains positive as it looks ahead to the rest of the season.
UNC spent the entirety of the past week preparing for this matchup — arguably the most important of the season so far — as it was its first game against a ranked team.
“Everyday we’d come to practice and talk about how we’re really excited for this match,” sophomore middle hitter and outside hitter Kaya Merkler said. “Our goal was to see how well we can hang with them.”
And throughout the game, the Tar Heels hung with the Panthers pretty well. They lost the first two sets, but brought an energy with them to the third set that allowed them to secure an impressive 25-9 win.
While they were unable to continue this winning momentum into the fourth set, it was clear that UNC’s level of play continued to elevate.
“Our goal is to get better throughout the match, and I think you definitely saw that,” graduate outside hitter Nia Robinson said. “You saw a really high level of play that we need to figure out how to do consistently.”
This level of play was reflected in the stats. North Carolina out-blocked Pittsburgh, and although the Tar Heels were unable to beat the Panthers, they demonstrated that they could hold their own against one of the nation’s top-ranked teams.
“I’m proud of them tonight,” head coach Joe Sagula said. “I felt that we competed hard and we showed where we can go.”
Team members walked away from the game with positive sentiments to share, regardless of the loss. The crowd in Carmichael Arena was the largest it had been in recent memory, as more and more fans seem to be rallying around the young team.
“It was insane — I want to thank so many people for coming out,” Robinson said. “Our bench also does a really good job of keeping the energy hype and making sure we’re staying in a positive mindset.”
The crowd and bench’s faith in the UNC team never faltered, even when they lost two consecutive sets. Sagula never stopped believing in his team either, and despite having a young roster, the Tar Heels continued to push and attempted to make a comeback bid.
“After the second set was over, we walked out of the locker room and I had a belief that this team was going to come out and compete,” Sagula said.
Coming out and competing, in games and practice alike, is an essential part of the Tar Heels’ team culture.
Although suffering their first loss of the season was disappointing, UNC is focused on becoming a better team for their upcoming matches. The upcoming slate of ACC competition will be challenging, but the Tar Heels are ready to embrace these tests.
“Coming in every day prepared to give your all is something we focus on,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to be at your 100 percent everyday but you have to give 100 percent of what you got.”
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