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'Beginning of an era': Mike Schall has big shoes to fill as new volleyball head coach

UNC VOLLEYBALL

Mike Schall coaches from the sidelines of the UNC volleyball game against South Carolina in Carmichael Arena on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Schall was named the new head coach of the program on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Photo Courtesy of Carolina Athletics.

By sitting on the bench, Mike Schall realized he wanted to be a coach.

As a former volleyball player at Penn State, he fell in love with the behind-the-scenes processes of coaching and preparing a team. After graduating in 1994, Schall began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater and was a part of the Nittany Lions team that won the 1999 NCAA title. After Schall left Penn State, the players he helped recruit went on to win four straight NCAA titles.

After serving as an assistant coach at UNC for the past five seasons, Schall replaced recently-retired Joe Sagula, who had been North Carolina's head coach for 33 years and racked up seven ACC Championships in the process. As the winningest volleyball coach in ACC history, Sagula left his assistant some pretty big shoes to fill.

Sagula always advised his players and assistants to be true to themselves, which is something Schall said he is keeping in mind as he takes over the program. One of the responsibilities he's looking forward to is being a guiding figure for his players as they progress throughout college.

“This period in their lives, it's a time where there are so many opportunities to grow," Schall said. "And I enjoy conversations that facilitate that growth."

Junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler is no stranger to Schall's coaching style. Schall is the former director at Triangle Volleyball Club in Apex, N.C., the same club Merkler played for growing up.

Merkler, who started all 29 games and led the team in blocks last season, said Schall "is still pretty much the same."

“When I heard that he was going to be the new assistant, I was overjoyed," Merkler said. "I was so thrilled that I get to play for him again."

Now, with Schall as the head coach, Merkler said "it's the beginning of a (new) era" for UNC volleyball.

Schall said his nearly seven years of experience at Triangle Volleyball Club helped prepare him for the administrative responsibilities that come with his new gig.

"Being in the (club) volleyball world… you kind of have to do everything," Schall said. "And so I think as a head coach now,  I've experienced over the last couple of weeks, you have a lot of different responsibilities."

Maddy May, a first-year out of Winterville, North Carolina, said she is excited to see the team build a new foundation under Schall's leadership and is looking forward to "building new relationships, redefining relationships and redefining this program."

"I really think we're gonna do something special in these next few years with Mike (Schall) and before Kaya (Merkler) graduates, so I'm just very excited for what's to come,” May said.

The North Carolina volleyball program has high goals for the future, both on and off the courts. 

Since being hired, Schall has put an emphasis on a higher level of competition for the team. Because North Carolina has historically been a powerhouse in sports, the volleyball program is working on fitting itself into that legacy. Schall said he wants his squad to be "one of those teams that wins championships."

On top of that, he wants to expose more UNC fans to the excitement of volleyball.

“Our goal here at Carolina is for us to be a team that people just can't wait until the next match and they'd love to come and watch and support," Schall said. 

Come August, Tar Heel students and fans alike will have their first chance to see Schall come off of the bench and commence his head coaching legacy.

@aplancaster_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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