DAVIS, Calif. - The UNC volleyball team opened play at the Aggie Invite with a win Friday, downing Santa Clara 3-2 (25-14, 25-13, 23-25, 20-25, 15-10). Junior Kayla Berringer and sophomore Chaniel Nelson combined for 29 kills, as sophomore Ece Taner recorded 23 digs and senior Cora Harms contributed 36 assists with 12 digs.
"I'm really excited about coming out and starting this tournament with a victory, and getting a great start on the first night of the tournament is really important," head coach Joe Sagula said. "It was an interesting match to say the least. We played in a dominant fashion the first two games, then got sloppy on our side and our passing broke down. We made a lot of unforced errors, and we have to learn from those situations. I'm glad we were able to learn from those situations to get the victory at the end."
"Our team is pretty tough, and we have a lot of different weapons, which we used to find a way to win at the end; I think that was the best thing. I was really glad that when it came to the fifth set, we were very clutch. Kayla had some really big kills for us that got the team excited, Tia had a big block, Chaniel was great, and Ece was making some great digs. Cora Harms was phenomenal the first two sets and in the fifth, and McGee was very steady throughout the whole match."
UNC started off slow in the first set, as Santa Clara started off with a 5-1 lead, but the Tar Heels continued to pick up momentum as the frame went on, taking over the lead at 9-8. Behind four kills from Nelson, and seven assists from senior Cora Harms, UNC continued to rally for the upper hand before taking a 7-0 run to secure the lead. Santa Clara failed to record any team blocks, while UNC tallied five, led by freshman Paige Neuenfeldt with three. Taner added four digs for the Tar Heels, who had a .250 attack percentage to top Santa Clara's -.065.
The Broncos jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start off the second frame, but the Tar Heels once again found their rhythm with another big 7-0 run. UNC dominated in blocks, recording 11 total team blocks behind Neuenfeldt (seven) and Nelson (six). Taner tallied 10 digs, with senior Emily McGee and junior Kaitlyn Anderson adding five apiece. Nelson recorded seven kills, and Harms had 14 assists with four digs. UNC once again controlled the attack percentage with .258 over Santa Clara's -.054.
Carolina grabbed the early lead in the third set, but the Broncos fought back to take the lead at 14-13 and hold on for much of the remainder of the frame. Down 24-20 at set point, Tar Heels held on to make it 24-23, before the Broncos capitalized on Neuenfeldt's only block error to take the win. Neuenfeldt tallied nine total blocks and Nelson had seven, as Carolina totaled 14 team blocks. Nelson and junior Kayla Berringer combined for 22 of the Tar Heels' 33 kills, as Harms added 25 assists with seven digs along with Taner's 16 and McGee's 11.
Santa Clara took the fourth set 25-20, gaining a .163 attack percentage and limiting Carolina to .057. Taner had five digs and Harms had four assists, as the Tar Heels combined for nine kills and 15 digs overall.
In the middle two sets, Carolina's passing and defensive game really struggled, Sagula said.
"We started becoming a little too anxious and overplaying balls," he said. "Santa Clara served well, and we can't function if we don't pass well. We had a lot of easy passes and free balls that we just didn't execute real well on. We're really good when we're digging and passing well, and we need to learn from that."
Dropping the third and fourth sets fueled the Tar Heels going into the fifth. Down 3-1 early in the frame, UNC didn't give up the lead again the rest of the set to win 15-10. Berringer contributed four kills, and Harms had seven assists with two digs. Carolina once again dominated in attack percentage, recording .261 and topping Santa Clara's .045.
"I'm just really excited that we can start the tournament with a victory here, and that we can learn from certain things to go into tomorrow knowing that we're going to have some tough battles ahead," Sagula said.
The Tar Heels will face Utah (1 p.m.) and UC Davis (7 p.m.) Saturday as the Aggie Invitational continues at the UC Davis Pavillion. Follow in-game results on Twitter and stay tuned to GoHeels.com for match recaps.