Bump, set, spike.
Volleyball revolves around each team completing the three-step process and burying the ball into the opponent’s floor. For UNC's first-year outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, dominating each phase comes naturally, despite her age.
Add in a wicked serve that has resulted in a team-high 26 service aces to her versatile skill set around the net, and the North Carolina volleyball team should have something to write home about for years to come.
The first-year from New Castle, Indiana, has earned two ACC Freshman of the Week honors this season and plays with a noticeable drive to win every single point. Whether digging, passing or spiking, Shaffmaster relies on the playing experience she’s gained since her infancy.
“I started playing volleyball at the YMCA when I was four,” Shaffmaster said. “My parents put me and my sisters in every sport. I have three older sisters, and the two oldest were 13 and 11 when I was born, so I got to grow up in a gym and be around them when they had games. I kept at it because of my sisters and how they played for so long.”
Her third sister, Melani, who is just 13 months older than Mabrey, plays at the University of Minnesota, and the two combined forces for New Castle High School for three years and won three straight state championships.
“I loved playing with my sister,” Shaffmaster said. “When she left, I was very, very sad because she built the culture of our high school team, but that made it easier to have one last season to myself. Not having her there helped me figure out my own game and how to adapt to certain situations without having my older sister there to bail me out.”
Shaffmaster’s recruitment to UNC first started after her first year at New Castle when she reached out to head coach Joe Sagula. The top-ranked player in Indiana in the class of 2021 wanted a college experience that encompassed more than just volleyball, and she’s found that so far in Chapel Hill.
“I was looking for a school to go to that wasn’t just volleyball all the time,” Shaffmaster said. “I really wanted to love the coaches, love the campus, love the team because I knew I was going to be here for the next four years, so I’d better like it. I have never been on a team that’s this fun.”
She narrowed her choices down to North Carolina and Duke, and from the moment Sagula first watched Shaffmaster play, he knew she would bring a special skill set to the Tar Heels.
“What’s most important to me is that she competes in the total part of the game,” Sagula said. “She can block well, play good defense, she passes. She just knows the game and is a good all-around volleyball player with a very high volleyball IQ. Her knowledge of the game is the thing that keeps her on the court as long as she’s been. Those innate skills are what make her so unique and such a competitive freshman.”
Graduate outside hitter Nia Robinson first met Shaffmaster while playing with one of her older sisters and always referred to Mabrey as “Baby Shaffmaster.”
“I played with her older sister, so obviously she was around a lot and was always known as the baby,” Robinson said. “Volleyball-wise, we played the same position, and our club did a lot of group things where we trained together, so I always worked with her.”
Robinson remembers one day in club practice when they spoke their current situation into existence, which has led to UNC’s current 18-7 record, the team’s best since 2016.
“I remember one day telling her to come play with me in college, granted that was while I was at Northwestern, and it’s kind of funny how things work out because now we’re here together.”
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