The Wolfpacker

November-December 2023

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2023 ■ 45 top-five program. Going into this sea- son, we wanted to make history. We said, 'We're going to do our best, and we're going to trust our system and trust each other.'" That trust proved well founded. The Pack pulled off a 3-1 s t u n n e r ove r the Cardinals at Reynolds C o l i s e u m , s u rg i n g to victories in the first two s e t s , 2 5 - 1 9 and 25-21, and rebounding from a subsequent 25-22 loss with a match- clinching 25-15 romp in the fourth set. McDaniel was a key part of that triumph, finishing with 28 assists and 14 digs. Afterward, players basked in the feel- ing of accomplishment. Head coach Luka Slabe doesn't usually address the team in the locker room after matches, preferring to share his thoughts while still on the court. This time, though, players insisted that the coaching staff join them in the postgame revelry. In lieu of a Gatorade bath, they doused Slabe with their water bottles. "It was super fun for everyone, and especially for the girls who have been in the program for a really long time," McDaniel said. "It was nice to see that we could finally achieve something like that." Far From Home McDaniel is one those long-tenured NC State players. A native of Mililani, Hawai'i, she has come nearly 5,000 miles to be part of the Pack's volleyball resurgence. She had originally planned on attending college somewhere on the West Coast, but a re- cruiting trip to NC State changed every- thing. McDaniel loved the campus and the supportive atmosphere within the volleyball program. "Once I visited," she said, "I felt like I had to take this risk and take a big step." McDaniel arrived in 2019 and got off to an outstanding start for the Pack, tally- ing 22 assists against Kansas State in her first collegiate match. She finished the season ranked second on the team with 228 assists. However, the Pack finished 11-19, and shortly after the season ended, the university announced that coach Linda Hampton-Keith would not be returning. For the next two months, McDaniel and her teammates anxiously waited for news. They trusted the assurances they received from the athletics administra- tion that NC State was determined to find someone who could elevate a pro- gram that had been an infrequent NCAA Tournament participant. And yet, they couldn't help but wonder what the fu- ture held for them under a new coaching regime. In February 2020, NC State hired Slabe, a coach with winning credentials at the international and collegiate levels. He had been an assistant under Karch Kiraly with the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He had also been head coach of the Slove- nian National Team and was an assistant with the BYU men's squad in 2016 and '17 when the Cougars finished as run- ners-up at the NCAA Tournament. To McDaniel, those credentials were both impressive and intimidating. "I was scared of him when he first came, just hearing about his résumé and the credibility that he had," she admit- ted. "He was a coach from USA Volley- ball. We thought he was going to really, really push us and be really hard." Slabe did push his new team to reach its potential, but in a constructive way. The Wolfpack began showing progress during the abbreviated 2020 season that followed the COVID-19 shutdown, going 8-9 that year. Then came another step up, with back-to-back 16-13 finishes in 2021 and '22. McDaniel played a major role in the Pack's rise. She became the team's pri- mary setter as a sophomore, ranking fourth in the ACC with 602 assists. As a junior, she overcame a midseason injury to lead the team in assists with 811. Last season, she had 546 assists, raising her career total to 1,641, sixth best in school history during the rally scoring era. "She's done it all through all the ups and downs of change," Slabe told The Techni- cian. "She's been supportive throughout, and she's been growing up. … We couldn't be more thankful to have her." Finishing Kick This year, NC State is in the midst of a breakthrough campaign. The Wolfpack was 16-5 overall and 6-4 in the ACC heading into the final month of the regu- lar season. That hot start has put NC State within reach of an NCAA Tournament berth. The Pack has made the field only three times in its history, qualifying in 1987, 2021 and 2017. It was during the last of those tourneys that the team won its first match at NCAAs, defeating Oregon State in the first round before being swept by Texas in the second. To lead the Pack back to the tourna- ment in her final collegiate season would be a supremely satisfying accomplish- ment for McDaniel. She already has one significant part of her future mapped out, having made plans to enroll in an acceler- ated nursing program at Duke next spring after leaving NC State with a degree in human biology. The remaining portion of her collegiate athletic career is a blank slate, however, and she's looking to make it last as long as possible. "For a lot of girls who come into col- lege and play D-I volleyball, that's our dream, to make it to the tournament, to win the tournament," McDaniel said. "This program hasn't done that in a while. "Seeing how much it's grown means so much to me. [Making the NCAA Tourna- ment] is something that I've wanted to do since I was younger. It's one of the reasons I wanted to play college volleyball." ■ " Going into this season, we wanted to make history. We said, 'We're going to do our best, and we're going to trust our system and trust each other.' " McDaniel

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