UNC volleyball combining youth and experience in a historic 11-0 start

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11-0 is a record that only one other team in the 51-year history of the North Carolina volleyball team has been able to achieve.

With a win over Davidson on Saturday, the 2021 squad made history and joined this exclusive club.

The winning streak at the start of the season saw two spectacular wins against Colorado State and Michigan.

In the Colorado State game, North Carolina lost the first two sets before handing down the third set. In the fourth and fifth sets, it was a back-and-forth battle between the two teams, with the Tar Heels hanging on in both sets to win. In the latter game, UNC and Michigan traded the first two sets before Michigan won the third set and secured a 21-17 lead in the fourth.

With the Tar Heels’ perfect season in jeopardy, head coach Joe Sagula called for a time out.

“I just said we’re going to have to keep playing really hard and try to take breaks,” said Sagula. “If we just do what we can do and control off the field and take some good shots right now, we can turn the pace in Michigan upside down.”

UNC did exactly what Sagula said they did and made a run against Michigan, coming back from a four-point deficit to win the set, 25-23. The Tar Heels ultimately won the fifth set, won the game and once again kept their perfect season alive.

The alumni transfer experience has been one of the reasons North Carolina have been able to fabricate those comeback attempts and come out of tight games this year.

Away graduate forward Nia Robinson is one of those players who encompasses both qualities as she joined the North Carolina program from the Northwest last year.

“We focus a lot on mindfulness, just being in the present moment and staying in the moment and not focusing on the score but earning each individual point and what can you do in that moment to win”, Robinson said. “I think that’s what really helped us, with great cheers and energy.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the Tar Heels have a freshman that’s integral to the 11-0 start – first-year outside forward Mabrey Shaffmaster. Together with Robinson, they provide UNC with a duo of dangerous and dynamic players. What gives them an even greater connection is the fact that they both played on the same club volleyball team in Indiana.

“They are demanding of each other, and this relationship is fantastic,” said Sagula. “I couldn’t have asked for a better situation, they make themselves better, they challenge each other.”

Of course, you don’t win 11 straight games just because of pure talent and luck – you also have to be confident in who you are as a team.

With the experience of the team and the players who have bought into Sagula’s long-term vision for the program, confidence in what is being built at Carmichael Arena is not a hard thing to find.

“I think we play our game, and we play our system, and we know what we’re doing,” said junior outside forward Parker Austin. “I think we are unstoppable.”

As the ACC game approaches, the UNC will have new challenges in the form of nationally leading conference enemies. But after a perfect no-conference roster, if the Tar Heels’ immense self-confidence is any indicator, it just might be a sign of bigger things to come.

@noahmnroe

@dthsports | [email protected]

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