In its first game of 2020, the UNC volleyball team (1-0,1-0 ACC) dominated, 3-1, at Cassell Coliseum, redeeming themselves from a loss to Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-1 ACC) in the final game of the 2019 season.
UNC had a strong opening by taking the first set 25-22. Destiny Cox scored the first point of the night for the team. Despite hitting .049 for the first set, the Tar Heels reached 15 points before the Hokies and never let the point gap increase more than two. Notably, Kaya Merkler scored four of her eight kills during the first set.
The Hokies got an early lead in the second set which they maintained for most of the set. The Heels tied it up 23-23, but the Hokies ultimately took the set, 26-24. Cox scored four of her 12 kills during the second set.
UNC made up for its loss in the second set by getting the lead in the third set and running with it. Winning the set with a 10-point lead, UNC scored three times in a row on multiple occasions. Maylen Mitrovich ended the set 25-15 with a dump, sealing UNC’s lead going into the fourth set. The Tar Heels maintained the lead for the entire set.
During the fourth set, the Hokies got the initial lead until the Heels tied the game, 5-5. However, despite tying for points several times during the match, Virginia Tech could not get ahead of UNC’s consistent lead and lost 25-20.
Who stood out?
Making 21 digs as libero, sophomore Karenna Wurl held the defense and almost matched her 2019 season-high of 22 digs. She also made the first service ace of the game.
Cox stood out by scoring 12 kills and bringing 15.5 points to the team throughout the match.
Merkler, a first-year, made four kills in the first game and maintained a hitting percent of 0.250, the best of the night.
Behind 14 kills, Buckner tied for most points of the night with 15.5. Buckner also scored one of six service aces for UNC.
“Destiny Cox did a great job blocking and really was a force for the whole match," UNC volleyball head coach Joe Sagula said. "I thought there were moments in the third and fourth set that Buckner just turned it up. Kaya Merkler was steady the whole match.”
When was it decided?
With UNC’s success in the first three sets, the game was decided in the fourth set when the team went into timeout at 15-10. The Tar Heels held a steady lead that pushed the team to a 25-20 win.
“When we went up 16-10 in the third set, I felt confident that we could win that set. In the fourth set, it was very close early, we were behind 5-3. But we stayed with it, we gained momentum and went up by 4 or 5 points, we got to 12-8. I thought we were in a good position with a good group on the court and we were serving better,” Sagula said. “I felt confident that if we maintained that level, we would be in good shape. You never know in volleyball. When that last whistle blows and it’s 25, then I know ‘we got it.'”
Why does it matter?
Thursday's game set the momentum for UNC’s second match on Friday. As the first game of the season, the Tar Heels' strong showing could set them up for success this season. This is also the Hokies first loss of the season.
“(The first match) sets the tone and builds confidence. You get the chance to feel good about what you’re doing and try to do it again. When you lose a match, you try to figure out what went wrong. So, we’re trying to figure out what went right and keep doing that,” Sagula said.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will play the Hokies again Friday, Sept. 25, before returning to Chapel Hill for a bye week.
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