The stage was significantly bigger for the North Carolina volleyball team Friday night. But there was no stage fright shown by the Tar Heels.
Playing at the Smith Center to kick off Friday’s Late Night With Roy festivities, UNC defeated Virginia Tech 3-1(22- 25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-16) in front of a crowd much larger than the ones it usually plays in front of at Carmichael Arena.
The official attendance was 19, 246, which set a new record for the largest crowd in NCAA volleyball history. The previous record of 17,651 was set during the 2015 national title match between Nebraska and Texas in Omaha, Neb.
The win was the third straight for the Tar Heels (8-7, 5-2 ACC), who got over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
“I’m really happy with how we got better in the match, without question” head coach Joe Sagula said. “That seems to be our M.O. though throughout the season.. The way we start, to the way we finish – we get better and better.”
UNC hit its stride in the third set after splitting the first two games with the Hokies. Powered by a masterful performance by opposite hitter Holly Carlton, UNC went ahead 2-1 by winning the third game, 25-20.
A 6-foot-7 force on the outside, Carlton had eight kills in the third game alone. The Tar Heels carried the momentum they built into the fourth set, as they went ahead 12-3 before winning the set comfortably to decide the match.
“I think the fourth set, I told the team, was a beautiful thing to watch,” Sagula said.
The start to the night was substandard from UNC’s perspective. The Tar Heels dropped the first game, 25-22, despite jumping out to a 12-9 advantage. From that point forward, however, the Hokies controlled the set and took advantage of self-inflicted mistakes on UNC’s part, as UNC had two service errors and only hit .094 in the opening set.
In the second set , UNC jumped out to an early advantage and never trailed. Ahead by as many as five points at one point, the Tar Heels relied heavily on outside hitter Taylor Leath, who had five kills in the set.
Still, the Hokies battled and pulled within two at 19-17, but UNC held on to win the set.
Who stood out?
Leath finished with a team-best 17 kills, as the redshirt junior outside hitter continued what’s been an impressive season. Entering Friday’s match, Leath was averaging 2.56 kills per set, and she performed even better than that against the Hokies.
Carlton’s big day helped carry the Tar Heels, who looked a bit sluggish after the first set. The redshirt first-year set a career high with her 14 kills.
“Tonight was a great night for me hitting wise,” Carlton said. “But like I said, (Kendra Koetter) led me to that, and then my defenders did a good job letting me know what was open on the court.”
Defensively, the duo of Katharine Esterley and Taylor Fricano combined for eight blocks.
When was it decided?
After the two teams split the first two sets, UNC held an 8-7 lead in the third game. The Tar Heels then went on a 11-3 run and went on to win the set to go ahead 2-1, a hole the Hokies couldn't climb out of.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels return to their usual home, Carmichael Arena, where they’ll face Virginia at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
UNC has won its last 14 games against the Cavaliers.
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