Deciding on the lineup for a volleyball game can be tricky. Questions like "who plays well with who?" "Can your front row hitter also play backrow, or do you need to get a sub ready when the rotation comes around?" and "When should you use your libero?" all cross a coach's mind when planning for a game.
For North Carolina volleyball coach Joe Sagula, that decision hasn't been tricky at all these past couple of weeks.
"(Taylor) Leath and (Taylor) Borup on the pins, left side," Sagula said. "Beth (Nordhorn) leading the ACC in hitting at middle. Katharine Esterley, one of the leaders in the conference in blocking. Holly Carlton on the right side, hitting and setting, and Taylor Fricano on the right side. Those are the hitters. Casey Jacobs, libero, Kendra Koetter, the other setter in the 6-2. Greer Moseman playing back row for Borup, and MG Hough playing as the serving specialist for either middle.
"That's it, that's the rotation. We know what we got. We've just got to make sure it's good."
Injuries to players like Julia Scoles, Mariah Evans, Mia Fradenburg and Madison Laufenberg have cut down on the substitutes available to Sagula, which means that the 10 players Sagula mentioned above each have a defined role, and can focus on playing in that role the best they can possibly be.
"It's way more critical now," senior Taylor Fricano said. "There's always that 'maybe she'll go in, maybe she won't, maybe she'll go in, maybe she won't.' But now, everyone's like 'I'm playing, this is my role, I have to be good because there's no one else.'"
The slew of injuries to this Tar Heel team has left Sagula with limited options, but he's quick to point out that the roster that's healthy is more than capable of causing damage, as they did in two wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson this past weekend.
"You've got two All-ACC players in Fricano and Leath" Sagula said. "Potential best offensive middle in the conference (Nordhorn) and best blocker in the middle (Esterley). And Borup who was all-freshman.
"So on paper, it should be good."
That lineup will carry UNC through their last four games of the season, all on the road, where the Tar Heels will look to win out to hopefully jump up a few spots in their RPI ranking before NCAA tournament selection time.
UNC sits at No. 55 in RPI on Friday, behind ACC foes Notre Dame, Florida State, NC State, Miami, Pitt, and Louisville. Sagula said that two wins this weekend, against the Fighting Irish and the Cardinals, would help out a bunch with pushing the Tar Heels into the "inside edge of the bubble" for the tournament.
To do that, UNC will have to knock off two tough teams on the road. Notre Dame leads the ACC in digs per set, and Sagula said patience will be key in getting points down against them to sneak out of South Bend with a win. Louisville is tied for first in the conference, but fell in five sets to the Tar Heels in Carmichael Arena earlier this season. Forcing the Cardinals out of system through great serving and keeping their own passing strong will be key for the Tar Heels.
A rough early stretch of the season has left UNC in a tough spot RPI-wise, but Sagula says winning these final four games for eight straight to close out the season would make a strong statement to the selection committee.
For seniors like Fricano, they know there's no where else to turn but the games in front of them with the players they have available.
"We realize this is it, this is actually it," she said. "Before we thought, 'oh, this is it,' and then people kept falling off. But now, everybody literally has to play. No one's role is not important."