Mia Fradenburg looked relieved after the North Carolina volleyball team’s sweep over Boston College. Beaming with a smile a mile wide, the sophomore libero set a career high in assists with nine in the match, and had 16 digs to help UNC snap a three-game losing streak.
Not bad for someone that hadn’t played in 12 weeks.
“It felt great to put the jersey back on (and) play next to my teammates again,” Fradenburg said. “It just felt really good.”
Fradenburg had missed the entirety of ACC play recovering from a concussion, and only just found out the day before the match she was cleared to play. In her absence, junior Casey Jacobs picked up the slack, playing libero in those 12 games and averaging 3.49 digs a set. Fradenburg’s return moved Jacobs back to defensive specialist, where she was a sparkplug on the back row for the Tar Heels.
Taylor Borup, who had 11 kills agains the Eagles, said it’s a blast playing with Fradenburg on the back row.
“She's very steady,” Borup said. “Even when it’s serve-receiving, I know that she can literally take up half the court. We all have confidence in her."
Sagula was pleased with Fradenburg’s performance, which Fradenburg herself credits to the coaching staff’s training plan to get her ready to play. Sagula noted her second ball was excellent that night, and helped lead to all of those assists.
“It was something that puts some comfort for the hitters to know the tempo of the ball that was going to come from her” he said. “It just creates a comfort level for the hitters, the feeling they can be more aggressive perhaps.”
More importantly, Fradenburg showed hardly any rust in her return, being able to dive for balls when needed and get into the flow of the game.
“She didn't look uncomfortable out there at all,” Sagula said. “I think this is going to build more and more confidence (in her).”
That confidence boosting lasted one game, as Fradenburg was held out of Sunday’s contest against Syracuse. Sagula said the training staff didn’t want to risk it, since Fradenburg wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
That moved Jacobs back to libero, a move she found out was happening 20 minutes before the game.
“As a libero, you're on the court more. You have more a leadership role,” Jacobs said. “I'm not gonna lie, I was a little bit nervous, just cause you do need to get into a different sort of mentality to be a leader rather than to be a spark.”
On the court, the nerves didn’t show up, as Jacobs was tough as nails on the back row, snagging 24 digs while diving all over the court, and serving tough as part of a Tar Heel defense that forced 24 Orange attack errors in their second sweep of the weekend.
Sagula said that Fradenburg and Jacobs each bring something different to the table at libero. Both serve in different styles, with Jacobs using a hard-driven serve that glides just over the net, while Fradenburg utilizes a high-drop serve that features a long arc and hang time. Fradenburg has different tempo on her out of system second ball that is good for the Tar Heel hitters, while Jacobs patrols the middle back position better.
For redshirt freshman Katharine Esterley, however, the main difference is in their personalities.
“Casey is a little more energetic, a little more exciting, and then Mia just has a calmness about her,” she said. “I think today, Casey's spark and her bright personality really helped us get excited for this match.”
The Tar Heels need to continue the momentum from this weekend if they want to have a chance at the NCAA tournament this season. Sagula said he expects Fradenburg to be ready in a day or two, making her available for the Thursday’s match against Georgia Tech.
Sagula has options in the event Fradenburg is available. And Jacobs’ ability to play both libero and in a three-rotation sub role lets her use her spark on defense in myriad ways during a match. And both have proven themselves capable as the season has gone on.
“Both have strengths, it's just a little different,” Sagula said of Jacobs and Fradenburg’s play at libero. “Sometimes I think the tempo Mia has is really good for us. Sometimes Casey can give us the energy we need.”
For Jacobs’ part, she wants Fradenburg on the court, andshe’s more than willing to give up the off-color jersey if need be to make that possible.
“If it meant that she could be uninjured and out here playing, I would be on the bench any day.”