The North Carolina volleyball team won in four sets as the opening act to Late Night with Roy on Friday night. After dropping the first set, UNC rode hot hitting and strong blocking to handily put away Virginia Tech in front of an NCAA record 19,246 fans.
Here are five thoughts on the evening's proceedings.
Attack errors matter, a lot
UNC struggled offensively in the first set, hitting only .094 with eight attack errors. Coach Joe Sagula noted that every hitter that took the court in that set had at least one attack error. The Tar Heels had three service aces in the set, but the attack errors kept things close enough for Virginia Tech to pull it out by three points.
In the subsequent sets, however, UNC hit no more than three hitting errors in each set, including only one hitting error in the entire fourth set, resulting in a scorching .520 team hitting percentage in the set. Taylor Leath hit .900 that set, and Beth Nordhorn hit .750.
Holly Carlton said the first contact improved as the match went on, as back row passers such as Casey Jacobs and Greer Moseman gave great passes off serves and digs to let Carlton and Kendra Koetter set up the attack.
Why can’t UNC do anything in the first set?
UNC is in the midst of a three game win streak, and is 5-2 in the ACC, good enough for fifth in the conference. In ACC play, however, the Tar Heels have only one the first set once (on the road against Clemson). The Tar Heels have averaged 6.57 errors a set in those seven first sets, while hitting only .136 as a team.
Post-game, Sagula said he's tried everything, from changing up warmup routines to moving starting lineups around to adjusting things as the set goes on, but nothing has seemed to work. He chalks it up to his young team needing to mature more, and he hopes it comes soon.
The first sets drops usually haven't been a big deal, as the team has played well after they picked up the game speed, particularly over the last three games. But one can very easily see how a dropped first set could come back to hurt the Tar Heels as they face tougher ACC opponents.
Taylor Borup coming back has helped everyone out
After battling a leg injury that kept her out for a month, Taylor Borup has been a major boost on the stat sheet since she made her return against Duke last week. She had five kills in that game, and followed it up with 15 against Wake Forest while hitting over .400, and she had eight kills on .273 hitting last night.
But the true value in Borup's return, to me, is in how her presence helps everyone else. With Borup coming off the bench at outside hitter, there's less pressure on Taylor Leath, and teams can't just key in on her in defensive strategy, so Leath plays better. Similarly, Beth Nordhorn also is opened up more, so she hits more efficiently. Taylor Fricano can focus on blocking and play in position. Carlton and Koetter can get more creative setting.
Getting a former All-ACC freshman team player back would be huge deal for any team just for their personal production, and that's certainly true with Borup. But, teams are starting to account for that production allows other players to shine brighter, resulting in UNC looking like the dominant force they were predicted to be at the start of the season.
You can't really tell, but the grind is wearing on the team
Coach Sagula said that on Thursday, his team took the court for practice with only eight players. Numerous players are dealing with various ailments. Some of the athletic variety, like sore ankles and similar minor injuries. But also of the viral type, as Sagula said at least three of his players were battling a stomach bug when the game started and could've need to find a bucket off court at any moment.
On the court, it's hard to tell who's hurt and who isn't beyond who's inactive each game, which is a testament to each player's toughness. The results have come despite these ailments. Still, this is something to watch as the team moves in the back half of the their schedule. Sagula doesn't know if everyone from Friday night will be available today against Virginia
The Dean Dome is a pretty fun place to play
UNC set a new NCAA record on Friday for most fans in attendance at a NCAA volleyball game, as 19,246 fans entered the Dean Smith Center to watch Late Night with Roy, which included the volleyball game to open the festivities. The previous record of 17,651 was held by the 2015 National Championship game between Texas and Nebraska, held in Omaha, Neb.
Coach Sagula said his team was "realists" and knew most of the folks there weren't there for the volleyball game, but he also said he thought his team got a chance to show off the sport to a lot of people that hadn't seen the game, and he thought the game was a good showcase for it down the stretch.
Joel Berry and Kenny Williams served as ball boys for the first half of the match, and the large crowd was able to get into it after long rallies, big blocks, and strong kills. Sagula credits the band and the Block Party student section for getting the non-volleyball crowd into the game.