CHAPEL HILL– Most fall sports have wrapped up by now, but the No. 15 Tar Heel volleyball team, finishing with a 27-4 overall record, is poised to begin its 2013 NCAA Tournament journey with aspirations of making a deep title push.
This marks Head Coach Joe Sagula’s 11th NCAA appearance in his 24 years at the helm of Carolina volleyball, but this year’s squad may be his most promising since the 2002 team that made it all the way to the semifinals.
Coach Sagula says one of the keys to the success of the team is balance.
“I think what’s really made us a good team this year is balance – balanced in terms of on the court and our success. We don’t rely on one player alone to carry us. We need a number of people to be good,” Coach Sagula says.
Coach Sagula recently picked up his 700th win of his career. He says milestones like that one only come with exceptional players and great support from the University.
“Coaches don’t get milestones without all the support of people around them, from the administration here at Carolina to the players who get it done on the court. You have to have great players to win a lot matches. I’ve been very fortunate. We’ve recruited some great kids,” Coach Sagula says.
Versatility and depth are a couple of Carolina’s strengths this season. Coach Sagula says the Tar Heels must continue to share the ball despite the lineup.
“For us, they key is that we continue to have a balanced attack offensively and that we can spread the ball around amongst our outside hitters, our middle hitters and our right side hitters. We can score effectively from any one of the three front row positions. That’s one of the keys,” Coach Sagula says.
So what are the ultimate predictors of success in the NCAA Tournament? Coach Sagula says it will all come down to the serve and return.
“We say at the beginning of the season, and we say at the end, the team that wins the serving and passing game is the team that’s going to be successful. Hitting is great. Blocking is important. But you maintain the level of play by how tough you serve and how well you pass your opponent’s serves,” Coach Sagula says.
The Tar Heels will face 17-12 California in the first round in Madison, Wisc., on Friday at 6 p.m. ET. The winner of that encounter will face the winner of the No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee match in the second round on Saturday.
California is certainly a familiar opponent for Carolina. It will be the fourth-straight year the Tar Heels and Bears will meet in the NCAA Tournament and the third-straight opening round match for the two programs.