Powered by strong offensive performances by Taylor Borup (17 kills) and Taylor Leath (15 kills), and a great all-around showing by Beth Nordhorn (13 kills, seven blocks), the Tar Heels delivered when it mattered the most.
“It was just so exciting. I think our team loves fifth sets,” said Nordhorn, who had four kills in the final frame. “And it’s just so cool to get to play in front of this home crowd, and just go out and try to play our best game.”
Near the end of the fourth set and during the fifth set, UNC did play its best game. That wasn’t the case from start to finish, however, on a night that featured many highs and lows.
Starting off slow has been a common problem for UNC this season, but the Tar Heels have been improving in that regard lately. For the third time in as many matches, UNC won the opening set Thursday, taking the first game, 25-15. The Tar Heels never trailed, and hit .424 as a team in the set, with Borup and Holly Carlton each recording four kills.
The second set started off just as well, as UNC jumped out to a 14-7 advantage. But with their backs up against the wall, the Yellow Jackets rallied, and took nine of the next 10 points to go ahead. UNC briefly regained the lead soonafter, but ultimately dropped the set, struggling to find a rhythm offensively.
It looked like the Tar Heels might make amends, as they jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the third set, but Georgia Tech settled down, and duplicated its performance from the second set. UNC trailed by as many as six points at one point, and were disjointed in nearly all aspects of the game.
Throughout the match, UNC struggled with its first pass when receiving from Georgia Tech, which negatively affected the Tar Heel attack. In the third set, UNC hit just .081.
Defensively, the Tar Heels had a tough time containing Georgia Tech’s Gabriela Stavnetchei, who finished with 26 kills, 12 of which came in the second and third sets.
Who stood out?
Sagula lauded the play of Borup, who was constantly a viable attacking threat for UNC. In addition to her, Leath provided the type of quality performance many expect her to on a nightly basis.
Tying with Nordhorn for the team lead in blocks was Taylor Fricano, who had seven, while also recording the same amount of kills.
According to Fricano, the key for UNC Thursday was being able to stay levelheaded during a match with many turns.
“Something we’ve definitely been working on as a team is ride the highs, but don’t ride the lows,” she said. “And get out of the lows fast by playing consistently, playing clean, and being physical.”
When was it decided?
After the two teams played an evenly matched fourth set, UNC seized control early on in the fifth set, and jumped out to an early lead. At one point, Georgia Tech came within one at 6-5, but the Tar Heels took the next three points on kills by Fricano and Leath to regain some comfort room.
Why does it matter?
Sagula said that at this point in the season, his team will take a win anyway it can get one. With the victory, UNC’s NCAA tournament hopes remain alive, and the Tar Heels have now won three in a row.
When do they play next?
UNC concludes its four-match homestand against Clemson on Saturday at 5 p.m. The Tar Heels earned their lone road victory of the season against the Tigers in September, a 3-1 (25-15, 23-25, 25-19, 25-16) triumph.