AMES, Iowa - North Carolina topped California 3-1 (26-24, 25-23, 18-25, 25-16) Thursday night at Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum as the Tar Heels claimed their third-straight trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"I'm just so proud of the team to be able to come back again and win a first-round match against a tough opponent in Cal, a school with a traditionally powerful program," UNC head coach Joe Sagula said. "Although we came in with the higher RPI, I don't know that we were the favored team. I thought we had a lot to prove to ourselves, most importantly that we can play at this level."
"I thought our defense tonight was outstanding, with Ece playing as an unsung hero, and Chaniel was a real force at the net in blocking. It was a close match, and I'm really excited for the team and to move on to the next round," Sagula said.
Led by senior Emily McGee with 13 kills and 11 digs, UNC capitalized on double-digit kills from four players to improve to 26-5 on the season and advance to Friday's second round match. Seven of Carolina's 11 players recorded blocks, with freshman Victoria McPherson grabbing four, and sophomore Ece Taner finished with 22 digs for UNC.
"The way our team was able to come out against a very good Cal team and play together with contributions from everyone was really impressive tonight," said McGee, who recorded her 15th double-double of the season. "Our biggest strength is the other team not knowing who is hitting the ball, and I think we were able to capitalize on that. Ece had a great game defensively, and I thought she was the MVP of the match."
North Carolina held off a California set-point to take the opening set 26-24. Sophomore Lauren Adkins' eight kills led UNC through set one, despite the Tar Heels tallying seven errors with a .234 attack to Cal's two errors and .394 hitting. McGee had three aces and three digs, junior Kayla Berringer added four kills, and senior Cora Harms recorded 12 assists for UNC.
Tied at 21, the Tar Heels again held strong through the finish to take set two 25-23. Berringer had five kills and a block, and McGee added four kills, four digs, a block and an ace to lead Carolina. UNC had strong defensive play in the second frame, tallying four team blocks, with Taner contributing six digs and freshman Leigh Andrew adding another four to limit the Bears' attack to .125. Freshman Jordyn Schnabl had eight assists, and Harms added another seven.
Cal took an early lead and continued to control play through the frame for a 25-18 win. McGee had four kills and two digs, but a .176 attack and six more errors didn't help the Tar Heels. Cal hit .333 behind five kills from Shannon Hawari and had four team blocks to stop UNC. Harms and Schnabl each had five assists, and Taner had five digs.
The Tar Heels bounced back for a strong final set, clinching the win with a dominant 25-16 score. Berringer, McPherson and McGee each had four kills as UNC hit a solid .353 attack. Taner had seven digs and Andrew had five. McGee, Andrew, McPherson and freshman Paige Neuenfeldt each had a block, and Harms and Schnabl combined for 14 assists.
North Carolina will face Iowa State, who topped IPFW 3-2 in Thursday's second match. UNC has played Iowa State once, losing to the Cyclones in 1987. Find links for live stats and the live webcast here. To purchase tickets for tonight's match, call 1-888-478-2925.