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UNC Volleyball Soaring To New Heights

The North Carolina volleyball team set a new program-high ranking of No. 8 in the updated AVCA Coaches Poll released Monday. The 18-2 Tar Heels are in the midst of an historic season and show no signs of slowing down.

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Head coach Joe Sagula has seen it all on the volleyball court. He’s been in the business for 34 seasons, 24 of them at Carolina.

But in the past two years, his squad has enjoyed record-breaking success. His No. 8 Tar Heels have now been ranked for 26 straight weeks, the longest streak in program history.

Assistant coach Eve Rackham says last Friday’s dominant 3-0 sweep of Miami shows the team is peaking at the right time with postseason play less than a month away.

“It was a really good team win. That’s the best our two outside hitters have played together in a couple matches. It was nice to see them score for us. The transition game wasn’t as strong as I’d like it be, but in terms of siding out, that’s one of the best matches we’ve had all year,” Coach Rackham says.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Assistant coach Eve Rackham (UNC Athletics)

Junior Leigh Andrew stands out for the Tar Heels. Andrew had 15 kills and 9 digs in the Miami win.

Coach Rackham says Andrew’s versatility makes her a dynamic teammate and has helped her emerge as one of the best athletes on the UNC roster.

“Leigh is such a talented player. I think the more she believes she’s talented, she’s only going to get better. She can do everything for us. She passes half the court, she’s taking front row swings, back row swings, and she’s one of our best blockers. She does so much for us. I think sometimes she gets undervalued,” Coach Rackham says.

Andrew identifies accurate serving as the key to Carolina’s chances moving forward. With a 9-1 mark in the ACC, it’s hard to imagine there’s much room for improvement, but Andrew says a clean serving day takes the Tar Heels to another level.

“It was such a crisp game. We were really locked in all three sets. We left it all out on the court. In the second set, our service errors were huge – we had none. In the first set, we had seven. When we serve in and serve aggressive, it brings a good vibe to our team,” Andrew says.

Leigh Andrew (UNC Athletics)

Leigh Andrew (UNC Athletics)

Junior Paige Neuenfeldt says Andrew is critical to Carolina’s success and believes the Miami win will give the team even more confidence. The Hurricanes were a formidable opponent with their lone ACC losses going into the UNC match coming to No. 25 Duke and No. 3 Florida State.

“Leigh [Andre] played great. She had so many awesome shots and was tearing apart their defense. Miami is a really tough team. We knew coming in it was going to be a tough match. I’m really happy we could come out and win that 3-0. It was pretty impressive,” Neuenfeldt says.

Next up for the surging Tar Heels, who have only dropped a pair of sets in their last seven conference matches, will be road trip up to Chestnut Hill to take on the Boston College Eagles Friday night at 7 p.m.


Weekend Game Preview

Carolina sports are in full swing this weekend with a host of games here in Chapel Hill for Tar Heel fans to enjoy.

Volleyball hosts Miami in Carmichael Arena at 6 p.m. The Tar Heels are 11-14 all-time against the Hurricanes – who are one of the ACC’s top performers with a conference record of 7-2.

Fans are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes as they cheer Carolina on to victory. There will be a trick-or-treat costume competition with the volleyball team after the match.

Men’s soccer will be taking Fetzer Field in a match against the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday at 7 p.m. This is the last regular-season match for the Heels before the ACC championships begin Wednesday, November 5.

Carolina is now ranked at No. 3 after a 6-2 victory over Georgia Southern Tuesday. Andy Craven tallied a hat trick in the match, naming the senior as the leading scorer in the ACC with 11 goals.

Women’s soccer travels to New York Sunday to face Syracuse at 1 p.m. This also marks the last regular-season match before the team makes its first appearance in the conference championships on Friday. North Carolina is ranked second in the ACC behind the Florida State Seminoles, who they share an identical 8-0-1 record with in the conference.

UNC has not lost a match since August 31st.


Chaniel Nelson Chosen as CLASS Award Finalist

Chaniel Nelson, a UNC volleyball senior, was chosen as a finalist for the Senior CLASS award.

CLASS stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, and chooses ten NCAA volleyball seniors who exemplify the “total student-athlete”, excelling both on and off the court.

Nelson leads the Tar Heels with 2.88 kills per set this year, with a .331 hitting percentage as an opposite hitter. Standing at a towering 6 foot 2 inches, Nelson was named to the All-ACC team in both her redshirt sophomore and freshman seasons. She is also the founder and director of the UNC S.W.A.G. (Something We Athletes Got) program, which promotes healthy lifestyle choices for student-athletes through peer education.

CJ Hunter, the UNC volleyball primary communications contact, says Nelson is a well-decorated senior who embodies everything the CLASS award is looking for in her leadership, athleticism and excellence.

“She’s having a great year and being a great leader for us so far – a fantastic person and a fantastic player. She works very hard, is very athletic, and has a very high contact point in her left hand to get over and around the block.”

“This award is a recognition of her dedication to excellence in the classroom, off the court and on the court,” Hunter said. “Here at UNC we like to think that all of our athletes are trying to embody all of those things inside of Chapel Hill.”

Carolina fans are able to vote for Nelson here on the CLASS award website until December 8. Fan votes will be combined with Division I head coaches’ votes to determine the winner. The Senior CLASS Award winner will be announced during the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship in December.

The list of finalists is as followed:
Liz Brenner, Oregon
Savanah Leaf, Miami (Florida)
Haley Eckerman, Texas
Liz McMahon, Illinois
Meredith Hardy, East Tennessee State
Katie Mosher, Florida State
Casey Hinger, Cal State Northridge
Kori Moster, Michigan State
Madi Kingdon, Arizona
Chaniel Nelson, North Carolina


UNC Volleyball Up One Spot In AVCA Poll

A pair of sweeps over the weekend helped the UNC volleyball team inch up one spot in the AVCA coaches poll to No. 12.

September 22, 2014 AVCA Poll - Click to Enlarge

September 22, 2014 AVCA Poll – Click to Enlarge

Carolina took down Oklahoma and West Virginia without dropping a set in the ACC-Big 12 Classic. The Tar Heels hosted those contests this past weekend. In fact, UNC hasn’t dropped a set in its last four matches and has only lost five sets all season, currently holding a 9-1 record.

Conference play begins this week with a tough matchup in Tallahassee. The No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (11-0) welcome the Tar Heels for the ACC opener. FSU was ranked 20th last season when doing battle with UNC—which was ranked No. 12 then as well. That match went to five sets, but the Seminoles ultimately came away with the ‘W’. Florida State made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament last year, two rounds further than North Carolina was able to advance.

Carolina’s home conference opener comes Sunday against unranked Syracuse.


UNC Volleyball Climbs Four Spots After Classic Sweep

The UNC volleyball team jumped four spots in this week’s national rankings after sweeping its opponents in the Carolina Classic over the weekend.


Click to enlarge

The AVCA Coaches’ voted the Tar Heels into the No. 13 spot after a hard-fought meeting with then-No. 16 Kentucky opened the weekend. The Tar Heels, then ranked No. 17, pulled off the five-set victory with a 16-14 final set. The Wildcats took sets two and three in dominating fashion (25-15 in each), but the Heels answered with a 25-13 set four to force the deciding set.

The weekend’s remaining games was a breeze comparatively as Carolina swept Georgia Southern and VCU on double-header Saturday.

UNC is 7-1 on the season and on a five-match winning streak after its 3-0 loss to Illinois in the Illini Classic on August 30.

The Tar Heels remain home this weekend for the ACC-Big 12 Classic. Oklahoma comes to town Friday, and Carolina hosts West Virginia on Saturday. Both matches begin at 6:00 p.m.


UNC Volleyball to Host 18th Carolina Classic

Carolina volleyball is hosting its 18th annual Carolina Classic this weekend in Carmichael Arena. The Tar Heels have invited No. 16 Kentucky, Georgia Southern and VCU to the tournament.

Carolina’s first match begins Friday, Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m. with a header against the UK Wildcats. Kentucky has a 5-1 record with their only loss coming from No. 6 USC. Head Coach Craig Skinner is returning an experienced squad that went 22-9 in the 2013 season, and reached the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Heels are scheduled to face Georgia Southern at noon Saturday, with another match against VCU that night at 7 p.m. Carolina is undefeated in the all-time series against both VCU and Georgia Southern.

In support of the Tar Heels, Kangaroo Express is handing out Roo Cups to the first 500 fans in attendance to Friday’s match, with an offer of unlimited 25-cent refills until the end of September.


Carolina Volleyball Primed for NCAA Tourney Run

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.



UNC Volleyball To Face Cal For Third-Straight Year In NCAA 1st Round

CHAPEL HILL – The No. 14 UNC volleyball team will face 17-12 California in the Champaign Regional of the NCAA tournament.

The Tar Heels finished the season at 27-4, 16-4 and in third place in the ACC after starting the season 15-0. Carolina lost its final game of the regular season to Duke 3-2 which determined the ACC championship.

This marks the third consecutive year UNC and Cal will meet in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels defeated the Golden Bears last year, 3-1, and fell to the Iowa State Cyclones in the second round, 3-2.

Carolina and California will square off in Madison, Wisconsin Friday, December 6.


700 Milestone: Carolina Volleyball ‘Killing It’ as Postseason Draws Near

CHAPEL HILL– Following a scrappy 3-2 win over Maryland on Sunday, the Tar Heel volleyball team improved to 26-3 overall and 15-3 in conference play.

This season marks the first time Carolina has reached 26 wins in the regular season since 2002.

Head Coach Joe Sagula says he was proud of his players for staying aggressive and going for their shots in the tight moments against Maryland.

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Coach Joe Sagula 11-25

“I thought we stayed aggressive during that entire time. I kept telling them we wanted them to go after it and to attack as much as we could. You’re not going to win a close match just sitting back and waiting for a team to make an error,” Coach Sagula says. 

Coach Sagula says the key to Carolina’s success on the court this season comes from the balance. The Tar Heels don’t rely on just one player for production.

“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.

Sunday’s win marked the 700th career win for Coach Sagula. He says he couldn’t have reached the milestone without great support from the UNC administration and all his outstanding players throughout his 24 years at Carolina.

“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.

The Tar Heels close out their regular season with two away matches against Wake Forest on Wednesday and Duke on Friday. Postseason play awaits Coach Sagula’s squad soon after.


VBall: Sagula Gets 700th Victory In Spectacular 3-2 Win Vs. Terps

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Head coach Joe Sagula earned his 700th career victory as North Carolina claimed a gutsy 3-2 victory over Maryland on Sunday at the Comcast Pavillion.

Sagula, who is in his 24th season at Carolina, now has a career record of 700-413 in his 33rd year of coaching, including time at the University of Pennsylvania before taking over the helm at UNC.

“Today’s win was an unbelievable comeback for us,” Sagula said. “I thought Maryland played so well. We knew they’d be a tough team and block well. We really had a tough time getting balls past them, and we lost patience at times. I was really proud, though, that we never backed down at the end and showed a lot of mental toughness.”

“Regarding the 700 wins, what comes to mind is thankfulness. I’m thankful to be here with this team. They’re very special people. To be here with them and to celebrate with them is wonderful. I’m also thankful for all the people that have been involved with my coaching over the years,” Sagula said.

Jovana Bjelica finished with season-highs of 20 kills and 18 digs, and Hayley McCorkle posted a career-high 18 kills to lead the Tar Heels, now 26-3 overall and 15-3 in conference play. This is the first time Carolina has reached 26 wins during the regular season since 2002.

The Tar Heels took the first set after holding off a Maryland set point at 24-23 to force extra points and take the frame 29-27. Bjelica posted six kills with six digs, and McCorkle added another four kills for Carolina.

Bjelica and McCorkle each tallied four kills with a block as Carolina took set two, 25-19. Neuenfeldt and Victoria McPherson added two kills and two blocks apiece, and Andrew posted two kills with five digs and a block as UNC held off the Terrapins to take a 2-0 match lead.

Maryland took the extra-points win in set three, 28-26, but the Tar Heels put up a strong battle. With the score tied at 10-10, Maryland posted an 11-3 run to go up 21-13, but the Tar Heels responded with seven straight points to bring it to 21-20, tying the score at 26-26 before the Terps claimed the set. Bjelica had five kills and six digs, and Andrew had four kills with a block for UNC.

It was 4-4 early in set four before the Terps picked up momentum to take the 20-12 lead. UNC brought it within five, 24-19, before Maryland took the frame 25-19 and forced a fifth set. Bjelica tacked on another five kills and Andrew had three kills with seven digs, but Maryland tallied eight team blocks to hold UNC to a .000 attack.

UNC held on through six match-points to take the final frame, 20-18, and claim the match victory. McCorkle was phenomenal in the fifth set particularly, posting six kills, including two to hold off match-points for Maryland, as well as a block. McPherson also added three much-needed blocks, while Jordyn Schnabl added two as well.

Up Next: Carolina closes out the regular season with two final away matches. UNC heads to Wake Forest on Wednesday for a 1 p.m. match and then to current ACC leader Duke for a 3 p.m. Friday match.

The Tar Heels will await their postseason lot, which will be announced during the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 9:30 p.m.