Volleyball bows out in second round of NCAA Tournament
Home-court advantage is real — especially in the fifth set of an NCAA Tournament match.
North Carolina’s volleyball team felt the pressure as it fought to keep its season alive.
Trailing 14-13, in the fifth set and serving, UNC had a chance to do just that.
But a UNC ball handling error, a two-hit, amidst a crowd of 2,702 caused the Tar Heels to fall 15-13 to host Iowa State, which gave the Cyclones a 3-2 victory and a sweet sixteen berth.
“We kept it close and got it back, but it was a bit of an anticlimactic ending,” coach Joe Sagula said. “At 14-13 we felt like we were going to tie it up. It was that close of a match.”
“That’s the nice thing about them being at home — in a one- or two-point situation for match point, you can feel it.”
The Tar Heels felt the pressure of their own goals when they stepped on the court Friday night, knowing that they would need to shut down a fast and aggressive team of outside hitters in Andie Malloy and Victoria Hurtt in order to win and move on in the tournament.
The Cyclone pair combined for 11 kills in the first set to lead ISU to a 22-25 win.
But North Carolina made defensive adjustments to make it a match. UNC changed the ISU offensive pace by holding Malloy and Hurtt to only three kills in the second set, to take it 25-18.
UNC continued to play good defense in the third set and held Malloy and Hurtt to four total kills. The Tar Heels won 25-23.
“We had a focus on stopping outside hitters beating us early, and that’s exactly what we did,” Sagula said. “Our blocking stepped up early, and that turned things around. Ece Taner made some adjustments digging balls in the left corner, then we just continued to serve as tough as possible.”
But Iowa State was able to find a way around UNC’s strong defenders when UNC had the 2-1 advantage.
The Tar Heels recorded 10 blocks in the second and third sets after a three-block first set. But where UNC improved, Iowa State was again able to adjust to the Tar Heels’ altered defense in the fourth set, which it won 25-16.
North Carolina also sacrificed 10 points on unforced errors to contribute to Iowa State’s fourth-set win.
But UNC approached the fifth set with a fighting spirit, despite the dismal fourth set.
“I had such a good feeling during the match,” senior Emily McGee said. “I knew that we were keeping consistent play and heart even when we struggled.
“It says a lot that our heart was evident through everything. With all the diversity of talents on our team, I think we had a lot of confidence that we could still compete.”
But in the end, a simple error would do the Tar Heels in.
“Most of all, I think we’ve established ourselves as a program that’s nationally competitive after this year,” Sagula said.
“These seniors and this season put Carolina in very good shape nationally as a program. Our goal is to continue at the level of play we’ve learned we can play at this season, to maintain our consistent competitive play.”
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