UNC Sports Weekend Offered Up Plenty

With fall sports conducting NCAA playoffs and basketball season now in full swing, it was an eventful weekend for Tar Heel athletics. UNC athletes experienced both the thrill of victory and the bitter taste of defeat.

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The UNC men’s and women’s basketball teams have hit the road with desirable final destinations. The men are Bahamas bound, while the women are headed to Hawaii.

But the two squads made quick pit stops over the weekend. The men stopped in Charlotte to take on the sharp-shooting Davidson Wildcats Saturday inside Time Warner Cable Arena.

Meeks slamming it down (Todd Melet)

Meeks slamming it down (Todd Melet)

The sixth-ranked Tar Heels used an in-form defense to cool the Wildcats off and emerge with a comfortable 90-72 win to improve to 3-0 on the young season.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says he was pleased with his team’s play, especially on the defensive side of the floor.

“I think we beat a very good basketball team that is a difficult matchup for us. I thought defensively, it was by far our best game of the year,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore Kennedy Meeks was impressive, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. But Coach Williams says Meeks is still figuring out how to play in his new slimmed-down frame.

“I think it’s a day-to-day thing. We’ve got to get his mind correct – that he does have a different body and can do certain things. He’s giving me the tired signal, then goes out there, denies the pass 45-feet from the basket and goes down and dunks,” Coach Williams says. “I’ve told him all the time to give me the tired signal when he goes back on offense, not defense. He just doesn’t realize what his body can do right now.”

As for the women, they met up with the Oregon Ducks in Eugene Sunday and after a sluggish start that may have been credited to jetlag; the Tar Heels poured it on in the second half to run away with an emphatic 76-59 triumph and up their record to 4-0.

UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell’s halftime adjustments paid off. With the three-point shots misfiring, the Hall of Fame coach made it simple for her players – just dominate inside. The Tar Heels did just that.

“Offensively, we got the ball inside. I told them at halftime that our advantage is to get the ball inside. They can’t stop us. We’re out there jacking up all these threes. They weren’t going in. Everything we did [in second half] was to get the ball inside,” Coach Hatchell says.

After the game, Coach Hatchell says she received a special compliment from one of the officials.

“We want to just keep getting and better as a team. I really love this team. They’re great kids. In fact, right at the end of the game, one of the referees said to me, ‘It’s such a privilege and honor to call for your team because not only are you skilled, but your ladies are so classy.’ That’s pretty special. The image of how they represent themselves and especially the University of North Carolina, is tremendous,” Coach Hatchell says.

Danielle Butts dives to save the ball (UNC Athletics)

Danielle Butts dives to save the ball (UNC Athletics)

But not all UNC’s teams came out on the right end of the scoreboard over the weekend. There will be no 22nd national championship this year for the Carolina women’s soccer team.

The Tar Heel women were upset 1-0 by South Carolina in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon at Fetzer Field.

UNC head coach Anson Dorrance says despite the setback, he was proud of his team’s accomplishments this season that included a share of the ACC regular season title.

“I’m proud of my senior class. We had really good leadership. If you look at our season overall, we certainly overachieved. We were conference co-champs with Florida State and a No.2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s pretty good for a team that was without ten starters from the previous year. But the day obviously goes to South Carolina,” Coach Dorrance says.

For the seniors, the loss was especially tough to take. Senior Satara Murray, though, says she couldn’t have asked for a better four years as a Tar Heel.

It was a disappointing day for the UNC women's soccer team (UNC Athletics)

It was a disappointing day for the UNC women’s soccer team (UNC Athletics)

“All in all, I had a fantastic year. I had fun. It was an amazing four years. I’m excited to see what the future has in store, but I love playing with this team every minute, every game. These girls fought for one another, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Credit goes to my team for making this an unforgettable and memorable four years,” Murray says.

In other action, the UNC men had better luck on the soccer pitch, defeating tenth-seeded Charlotte 2-1 in rainy conditions Sunday to survive and advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels will face the winner of the Clemson-Coastal Carolina match to be played Monday.

And last but certainly not least, the Carolina volleyball team continues to serve up a storm. This time, the No. 7 Tar Heels bagged a 3-1 win over the Louisville Cardinals Sunday afternoon in Cardinal Arena.

UNC head coach Joe Sagula’s 24-2 team will wrap up the regular season this week with a pair of home matches – a rivalry encounter against No. 21 Duke and an ACC matchup with Wake Forest.


UNC Volleyball Soars to No. 7 Ranking in Coaches Poll

Release from UNC Athletics
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – UNC volleyball continued a historic weekend by earning a new program-high ranking at No. 7 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll, released Monday.
The Tar Heels earned 1157 votes and moved up one spot after defeating NC State and Florida State last weekend.  The two victories also moved No. 7 UNC (22-2, 13-1) into first place in the ACC standings with two weeks left in the regular season.
Carolina swept NC State last Thursday behind eight kills from Leigh Andrew and 10 blocks from Paige Neuenfeldt.  UNC held the Wolfpack to a .050 hitting percentage and turned in 16.5 team blocks against NCSU.
Then the Tar Heels knocked off No. 3 FSU, 3-1, for the highest-ranked victory in program history.  UNC used a strong serve and block game to sprint past Florida State, as Carolina registered eight aces and 17.5 team blocks. Chaniel Nelson had 15 kills and Neuenfeldt added nine blocks against the Seminoles.
For the weekend, North Carolina stuffed an average of 4.85 blocks/set and dropped in 1.85 aces/set.
Overall, the top 10 reshuffled thanks to two major upsets during last week’s matches. Washington moved down to No. 5 after the Huskies dropped two matches to Utah and Colorado on the road. The upsets moved Utah into the poll at No. 23 and moved Colorado up to No. 19.  Overall, the Pac-12 has nine teams ranked in the AVCA Coaches Poll this week.
The FSU and Washington losses leave No. 1 Stanford as the sole remaining undefeated team. 
Wisconsin moved up to No. 2, while No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Penn State filled out the top four. Florida State fell to No. 8 in the poll after dropping two matches against UNC and Duke, who reentered the poll at No. 21. Florida, who defeated No. 15 Kentucky on Sunday, stayed one spot ahead of UNC at No. 6.  Colorado State moved up one place to No. 9 behind FSU, and Illinois rounds out the top 10 at No. 10.
UNC returns to action this Friday for an 8:00 p.m. road match at Notre Dame.  The Tar Heels will stay on the road for a 12 p.m. match-up with Louisville on Sunday. 

Tar Heel Sports Weekend A Mixed Bag

With the UNC football team enjoying a bye week this past weekend, other fall sports teams took center stage and experienced different results.

UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams says his team’s hard work in practice paid off last Friday night against Belmont Abbey.

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“Well we’re much more gifted naturally than that team was and we’ve been working pretty doggone hard in practice.  We’ve been getting after them a little bit and I thought in the first couple minutes we weren’t really in to it defensively and then we were really good defensively,” Coach Williams says.

Although Coach Williams was pleased with his team’s 112-34 win, he did see some room for improvement.

“We look like a Model-T Ford out there compared to how I want them to run.  That’s the reason I took those guys out, we had Nate (Britt) and Joel (James) out there and they looked like pedestrians that’s one of the reasons I jumped on them out there.  We need to run harder, we need to get out big guys running more.  It’s no where near where I want it to be but I think we’re going to get there,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks says the Tar Heels keep the atmosphere light in the locker room.

“(The team) is always together in the locker room playing games like ping-pong.  And then you have Joel (James) and Kennedy (Meeks) who are big goof-balls who keep the team laughing and together,” Hicks says.

Ping-pong is one of the team’s favorite ways to stay loose in the locker room but even in ping-pong the Tar Heels keep it competitive

“Marcus…J.P….we have tiers so tier one would be Marcus (Paige), J.P. (Tokoto) and Hoots (Coach Eric Hoots), that’s it,” Hicks says.

UNC volleyball head coach Joe Sagula was once again impressed by his team’s effort following a 3-0 victory over Virginia Tech Sunday.

“We got a lot of weapons and were able to use them all tonight,” Coach Sagula says.

UNC sophomore tennis player Brayden Schnur captured the USTA/ITA National Indoor Collegiate Championships Sunday with a 7-5, 7-6 win over Vanderbilt’s Gonzales Austin.

But not all Tar Heel athletes tasted success over the weekend.

The UNC women’s soccer team lost 2-0 to Virginia in the ACC Tournament semi-finals Friday night

The men’s soccer team lasted only two days longer as they fell 1-0 to Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on Sunday.  Following the loss, senior forward Andy Craven says he realizes the regular season is over and that there are things to address before NCAA tournament play begins,

“If anything it was a good indication of where we need to be and what we need to work towards and to know that we haven’t arrived and we haven’t peaked yet.  As many goals we’ve scored it doesn’t matter, it’s playoffs now.  It’s important to maintain the good stuff we’ve done in the season and minimize the bad stuff,” Craven says.

Although not every Tar Heel was victorious over the weekend, the ultimate prize of a national championship is still within reach.


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.

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.