Coming into an early season showdown at Duke, North Carolina volleyball player Julia Scoles had every right to be nervous. As the student section grew steadily more raucous after the Blue Devils came back to win the first set 25-22, no one would have blamed her for a few jitters in only her fourth game.
But there were no signs of nerves from the star freshman. Scoles powered the Tar Heels to a 25-18 win in the second set and UNC took three straight sets to win 3-1 on Thursday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
After she’d set a new career high with 17 kills, Scoles was more nervous to talk to a few reporters after the game than she’d ever been on the court.
“Once I get into the game, the nerves turn into excitement, and the excitement feeds me to play better.” Scoles said.
UNC (4-0) entered the game ranked 12th in the nation, while Duke (3-1) was unranked. Even though the game doesn’t count toward conference records, records still get thrown out whenever these two teams meet, especially for the home team. Duke had won the last two meetings in Cameron Indoor and seemed set up for a third after coming back from a 20-17 deficit to win the first set. Attack errors plagued the Tar Heels after a strong start to the game and allowed Duke an opening it capitalized on.
“We cannot expect to have more than six attack errors in a set and win,” UNC head coach Joe Sagula said.
Then Scoles, who was named MVP of the Penn State Classic tournament last weekend, kicked into another gear.
“We’re not losing to Duke, here we go,” Scoles said she told her teammates.
She scored two kills in the opening moments of the set and later on had a hand in seven straight points. She finished the set with nine kills, while fellow freshman Sydnye Fields had six of her 16 blocks in the set.
Those two weren’t the only newbies to play beyond their years. Taylor Borup came off the bench to register nine kills and five blocks. Her contributions proved invaluable in holding off a pesky Duke team in the third and fourth sets. All told, UNC’s first year players contributed 33 kills.
“Whenever the freshmen are on the court…whenever we can be powerful together, it’s awesome,” Fields said.
Sagula said before the game there was a special kind of energy he saw whenever the Blue Devils played his team. That was evident throughout, as a relentless defense overcame a 21-6 disadvantage on the blocks to consistently rally and return the ball.
For most young teams, an opponent that persistent would many times prevail by virtue of experience. And there were signs of that in this game—take the 15 attack errors on part of UNC.
But as the game wore on, it was UNC that wore down the Blue Devils. A deep bench that saw players like junior Beth Nordhorn come on in the final set and make clutch plays overpowered Duke’s feistiness.
And the end result is another big win over a tough opponent to build the confidence of a young and talented UNC volleyball team.
“They’re learning a lot so early in their career to get this experience and know how to fight through it,” Sagula said. “It just means a lot for their future.”