The North Carolina volleyball team entered the weekend with an 11-0 record, but by the time it was over, they sat at 11-2.
After losing its opening ACC matchup to No. 4 Pittsburgh on Friday, the team dropped another conference match to Virginia on Sunday 3-1.
Although the Tar Heels were aggressive at the net with 52 kills — two more than Virginia — the Cavaliers’ hitting percentage of .209 gave them an edge over UNC, which had a hitting percentage of .180. UVA also had more than twice the number of blocks, registering 16 compared to UNC’s seven.
Head coach Joe Sagula said the team may have been a bit too confident heading into the matchup against Virginia.
“I think we really did focus during the week on Pitt, trying to be prepared for both teams this week, but two very different style teams,” Sagula said. “So we knew we had to be able to play up one speed, one type of tempo against Pittsburgh, and it was gonna be a different type of tempo against Virginia. It's hard to make that adjustment in one day.”
After Virginia defeated UNC in the first set, 25-17, the Tar Heels came ready to play in the second. They increased their hitting percentage from .037 in the first set to .235 in the second.
The Tar Heels picked up an early lead in the second set, which Sagula said allowed the team to play more freely — something they weren’t able to do in the other sets, which were high pressure and pretty close.
“We kept telling the team to stay aggressive, just to go after it harder and take more swings. I think we were hitting a lot of off-speed shots early, and I think that helped us to put some pressure on Virginia.”
First-year Mabrey Shaffmaster had six kills in the second set, which the Tar Heels won, 25-15.
Coming into the game, Shaffmaster said her goal was to not treat Virginia any differently from Pittsburgh. Even though Virginia was unranked, she wanted to play just as competitively.
“You could just tell like the vibe was very off, and I think it's because we just thought we were going to roll over them," Shaffmaster said. "I just don't think that should ever be the case. We should respect every opponent we have, no matter if they're ranked or not.”
Despite being one of the youngest on the team, Shaffmaster emerged as a leader in Sunday’s game. She led the team in kills, with 16 total. Her aggression on offense put pressure on Virginia and contributed to the closeness of the sets.
“I just feel like I'm naturally a leader, and sometimes that can be hard because I do get mad at myself,” Shaffmaster said. “It's hard to lead other people when you can't control your own emotions and everything, but that's something I've gotten a lot better at."
UNC hopes to take Sunday’s game as a learning experience. Sagula said they need to learn to sustain their level of play, and noted that if they dwell on the loss, they’ll get nothing out of practice.
“It's got to be back to who we are, practicing hard, getting the job done,” Sagula said. "That's all we have to do.”
Junior Parker Austin agreed, saying she thinks the team beat themselves this weekend and that she hopes they can turn it around with some hard work and preparation.
“I think this is a huge wake up call to us,” Austin said. “We realize that we are beatable and that we need to come out every game, doesn't matter who the opponent is. We may be beatable, but it'll be really hard to beat us if we’re on our A-game.”
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