Sadie Swift emerging as key blocker for UNC volleyball in sophomore season
For much of her life, Sadie Swiftthought of herself as a basketball player.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, the UNC sophomore middle blocker was a hooper before she started to take volleyball "more seriously" in eighth grade. She was soon recruited by Roots Volleyball club coach Lindsay Rosenthal.
Quickly, Swift adopted the identity of a volleyball player first, basketball player second. And if her production for North Carolina this season is any indication, Swift made the right choice.
After a rookie season in which she saw action in just 16 total sets, Swift has emerged as a regular starter and defensive cornerstone for the Tar Heels in her sophomore campaign. Her 99 blocks on the season rank seventh in the ACC and, notably, Swift has the most blocks of any underclassman in the conference.
"I think there were some advantages to playing basketball for so long, but then it took me a little bit," Swift said. "It took me a little while to learn those technical skills, but once I got those down, I feel like that's when I really started to enjoy volleyball so much."
'A diamond in the rough'
Former UNC coach Joe Sagula said he's lucky to have spotted Swift early in her recruiting process.
“The feeling on the staff was, ‘Wow, we’ve got a diamond in the rough!'" he said. "Somebody who was under-recruited, who is then all of a sudden appearing as a senior in high school, and people are starting to take notice, like, ‘Where did she come from?’"
Swift's athleticism, confidence and humor drew Sagula. He said she was a “seamless” fit on team, as she matched the program’s structure and personality from the beginning.
Sagula said Swift didn't act like a first-year on the court last season, instead leading by example in her own unique and laid-back way.
“She's been a key member of the team, which we thought she could be," Sagula said. "And it's all falling in place for her.”
'She wanted to be really good at this'
Swift's preparation for this season started back in January — both in the weight room and in on-court practices.
“I just felt this sense from Sadie that she wanted to be really good at this," head coach Mike Schall said. “She committed to doing the work.”
Being disciplined at the net is something Swift said she specifically focused on this season. She credited her teammates for helping improve her net protection, because she could consistently practice against good competition like All-ACC first-team selectee Mabrey Shaffmaster.
Unsurprisingly, both Swift and Sagula credit some of Swift's recent growth to her basketball days. According to Sagula, playing multiple sports added to Swift's athletic IQ. Even in college, Swift has participated in intramural basketball, putting her athleticism towards something “less serious.”
“She knows how to finish with her hands over [the net]," Sagula said. “And I think that's just a natural thing that she's very gifted at — good talent to have.”
'She's a calming presence'
Swift is known by her coaches and teammates alike for being a friendly competitor. While Schall said typical competitive players are "tearing people apart," Swift competes with a smile on her face. On top of Swift's calming presence on the court, Sagula described her as having a funny and dry sense of humor.
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“Even in high-intensity situations, she's a calming presence,” first-year outside hitter Sydney Nolan said.
Nolan said she and Swift became fast friends, describing the middle blocker as humorous, lighthearted and fun. Swift, according to Nolan, is always looking for everyone’s best interest and has been helpful from day one. For Nolan, it comes down to the little things, like Swift constantly offering rides to the first-years.
Swift's breakout performance can be seen as a silver lining to a disappointing season in which they currently have a 12-13 record. As North Carolina looks to wrap up its conference slate with a pair of home matches, it's safe to say Swift will continue leading the way.
And, if you ask Sagula, it comes down to Swift's natural athleticism and work ethic.
“You think about Sadie, you think about someone with good integrity, good character, who represents what a pure student athlete is."