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Wednesday December 7th

First-year libero Maddy May emerges as young leader for Tar Heel volleyball squad

UNC first-year libero Maddy May (25) prepares to receive the serve during the game against Florida State on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC first-year libero Maddy May (25) prepares to receive the serve during the game against Florida State on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.

Compete hard.

That's the mantra guiding first-year libero Maddy May in her first season with UNC’s volleyball team. 

In 10 out of the last 11 matches, the North Carolina native has accumulated double-digit digs, including earning a career-high of 19 digs in the match against Michigan on Sept. 10. So far this season, May has tallied a team-high of 188 digs. 

“I love my position, personally,” she said. “I love getting to sacrifice my body all the time and literally lay everything out on the floor for my teammates.”

Her competitive spirit coupled with her defensive prowess makes her a significant contributor to the team’s success. For two weeks in a row, on Sept. 12 and 19, May was named ACC Freshman of the Week.

May’s passion for volleyball began in elementary school, when she started playing in a recreation league in her hometown of Winterville, N.C. Since she was 10-years-old, her biggest dream has been to play college volleyball, she said. When she began the recruiting process in June 2020, that dream started to become a reality. 

While May was in high school, UNC head coach Joe Sagula had the opportunity to watch her play against Kaya Merkler – who is now a junior middle hitter for the Tar Heels – in a state tournament matchup. He said said he immediately noticed May's competitiveness.

“She could go up against and wouldn’t shy away from big hitters like Kaya or other big hitters (from) other teams,” Sagula said. “She just had a lot of those things you just loved watching because she was so aggressive and relentless in her play.”

Initially, May was interested in going out of state to continue her volleyball career, but a new addition to her family changed her mind.

“I had a little sister in 2020 when I was being recruited, and that really shifted my mindset,” she said. “I always had wanted to go out of state, but the family-feel here and the idea that my family could come to a lot of my games and I could still see my sister a lot, that was also very appealing to me.” 

May said she also fell in love with the coaching staff and the program’s potential. She was especially drawn to “the idea of building a program” at UNC and making North Carolina “a perennial powerhouse again” — as the team looks to make its second straight NCAA Tournament after a five-year drought.

Sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster said she met May for the first time when the young recruit made her first official visit to UNC. Shaffmaster served as May’s host for the visit, and she said that the libero stood out because of her readiness to come to the University. 

“She was like, ‘I’m ready.’”  Shaffmaster said. “‘I’m ready to practice with you guys. I’m ready to come on campus. I’m ready to come play. I want to win.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s different.’”

Besides her competitive spirit, Shaffmaster said that May brings energy, grit and a positive attitude to every match. As an example, she pointed to UNC’s recent comeback win at Virginia.

“The first two sets were really bad,” she said. “And throughout it all – even though we lost the first two sets – she was always like, ‘We can do this. There’s no way we can’t win this game.’” 

May’s personal mantra also goes hand-in-hand with the team’s mantra for the 2022 season – “compete to the Sweet.”

After losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year, the team is shooting for the Sweet 16. Sagula said that May’s dedication has establish a defensive standard, which has helped to make this a realistic goal for the squad. 

“I think she has helped solidify our defense everyday, and she’s playing at a high level,” he said. “For us to get to the Sweet 16, you have to compete like that mentally and physically, and I think she’s a good role model for that.” 


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