Coach Joe Sagula used an early timeout after his team lost the first four points of the third set. UCLA extended its lead to 17-10, but the Tar Heels kept hanging around, fighting their way to a 23-23 tie.
Two points later, a third straight set ended with an ace. Redshirt sophomore Taylor Leath wasn’t able to handle a UCLA serve, and the Bruins pulled out a 25-23 win.
UNC held its own in the fourth set, countering every run by the Bruins. Facing three match points, the Tar Heels forced three more ties.
UCLA took a 27-26 lead before finally capitalizing on its match-point advantage. A kill on the next point ended the Tar Heels’ season and sent the Bruins to the Elite Eight.
Who stood out?
Taylor Leath was the Tar Heels’ best player. The ACC Player of the Year put up a double-double with a team-high 20 kills and 16 digs. First-year Julia Scoles, the ACC Freshman of the Year, also put up a double-double with 12 kills and 15 digs.
The Bruins’ offense was what carried them to a win. Four players had double-digit kills, and Reily Buechler just missed a 20-20 game with 19 kills and 24 digs.
UCLA had an eye-popping 76 kills and 102 digs in the four-set marathon match. UNC had just 60 kills and 85 digs.
When was it decided?
UCLA’s third-set ace was the turning point of the match. UNC had tied the match at 1-1 before halftime and was giving the Bruins another tight set.
But UCLA was undaunted and won the third set on an ace. With a 2-1 cushion, the team played loosely and continued to rack up kills.
Even though the fourth set was close, the Bruins’ energetic body language was evidence of the confidence that eventually led to their win.
Why does it matter?
This was the second-best team in UNC history, trailing only the 2014 team that advanced to the Elite Eight. North Carolina won a school-record 19 ACC matches and looked poised for a deep tournament run. Although the Tar Heels will be losing key senior starters Sheila Doyle, Abigail Curry and Hayley McCorkle, the future is bright.
North Carolina will bring back its ACC honorees in Leath and Scoles under ACC Coach of the Year Joe Sagula. The emergence of those two players — along with more young standouts — is a promising sight for UNC volleyball’s future.
Where do they play next?
North Carolina’s season is over. UCLA will face No. 2-seeded Minnesota tomorrow night in Minneapolis for a spot in the Final Four.