It has been an especially strange season for the NC State volleyball team, a group that sits at 0-4 nearly one month since the season started.
The Pack went about three weeks in between matches against Duke and UNC, which certainly killed momentum for a team that had potential to compete in the ACC under first-year head coach Luka Slabe. Despite a disappointing start to the year, there are some positive takeaways for this team, and reason for hope as it moves towards the latter part of its schedule.
Melissa Evans is among the best all-time athletes at NC State
It is seriously understated just how good of an athlete senior opposite hitter Melissa Evans is, and how much she means to not just the volleyball team, but NC State Athletics as a whole. Evans notably reached her 1,000th career kill in the second match against Duke on Sunday, Oct. 18.
While that didn’t translate into a win for the Pack, Evans played her heart out, finishing the match with 10 kills. In terms of the NCAA playing field, Evans has 43 kills across 13 sets this season, and ranks 19th in the country with 3.73 kills per set.
More impressive is if you consider the fact that Evans has played in 35 less sets than the kills leader in the nation, Hali Wisnoskie. If you stretch Evans’ efficiency across the amount of sets that most players in the nation have played, she would be projected to have about 159 kills, which would be good for second in the nation.
Obviously, it isn’t a given that Evans would reach that mark, but the fact that NC State had to deal with two matches being postponed and Evans missed the first matchup with UNC, makes Evans’s accomplishments all the more astounding.
Despite winless mark, the Pack is a resilient team
An 0-4 record is definitely not the start that Slabe or the team envisioned at the beginning of the year, but contextualizing that record is key. The Pack is just a few easy-to-fix mistakes away from having a much different outlook on the season.
For example, in the second set of the second match against UNC, the Pack was an errant serve away from tying the set 24-24. It isn’t a given that the Pack would have won that set anyways, but that could have been the momentum shift that led to a win.
The Wolfpack has been able to keep it close in nearly every set, at least for a while, but unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding when necessary. Specifically against the Tar Heels, but all season long, the team keeps it close, like when it tied UNC late in two straight sets, but allowed the Tar Heels to go on closeout runs, seemingly giving up.
Quite literally, NC State is a handful of plays away from being 4-0. The only set where the Pack looked truly outclassed was in the team’s first match of the year, when the team lost the third set 25-8.
The team needs to emphasize efficiency, make most of opportunities
While the Pack is just a few crucial mistakes from having a much better record, the team still has severe issues in a number of places that aren’t so easy to fix. It all comes down to being an efficient squad in the end, and NC State ranks dead last in the ACC in terms of hitting percentage.
The Wolfpack is only connecting on 12% of its hits, just behind Boston College, but far away from many other teams that are just mediocre in terms of hitting. For reference, Georgia Tech is hitting at a 33% clip, a tremendous difference.
This isn’t easy to fix, but it isn’t like the Pack hasn’t had opportunities to rewrite the script, as mentioned earlier. If the Pack was hitting at even a middling mark, the team would look much different. Thankfully, NC State takes on Virginia next, who isn’t much better at connecting than the Pack.
Luka Slabe needs to emphasize fundamentals
The lack of apparent communication on the team is evident, and it all starts with basic fundamentals. NC State ranks seventh in the ACC in errors, a poor mark considering it has only played in 16 sets all year. The aforementioned Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has 20 less errors than the Wolfpack in six more sets.
If team communication and mental fundamentals were in place, the errant serve mentioned earlier likely wouldn’t have taken place. NC State definitely has the talent to compete in the ACC, but all the players don’t appear to be on the same page.
Slabe definitely has the track record necessary to help get his team back on track, as he has experience coaching at the national level and helped BYU go 75-16 across three seasons.
Along with Evans, players like junior opposite hitter Jade Parchment, junior middle blocker Pam Chukwujekwu and redshirt junior defensive specialist/libero Kaylee Frazier, among others, all have what it takes to make this team one of the best in the ACC.
Chukwujekwu has been powerful on defense, leading the team with 15 blocks, while Frazier has had 61 digs in 16 sets, a marking that has her at 35th in the nation. Meanwhile, Parchment has a team-leading 49 kills, also making waves nationally.
The Pack definitely has the ability to right the ship, and it will get the first opportunity to do so on Friday, Oct. 23 when it takes on the 1-3 Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Virginia.