In the Spike Out Cancer match dedicated to breast cancer awareness, the North Carolina volleyball team (17-4, 6-4 ACC) defeated Duke (12-8, 3-6 ACC) in three sets on Friday night, extending its winning streak to six games.
North Carolina got off to a fast start, with back to back kills from graduate Nia Robinson that put the Tar Heels up 11-5. A Duke timeout broke some of UNC’s momentum, as the teams traded scores for the next few points. The resilient Blue Devils went on a six-point run, cutting the lead to 21-20. Kills from Robinson and first-year Mabrey Shaffmaster put the Tar Heels up by three, with Shaffmaster spiking the set away 25-21. Robinson and Shaffmaster each had five kills in the first set.
In the second set, Duke went on an early 4-0 run, including three kills from senior Ade Owokoniran. The Tar Heels answered back with a six point run, led by first-year Marissa Meyerhoefer’s three consecutive aces.
UNC graduate Emily Zinger was injured midway through the set, and the current status of her injury is unknown. After she was helped off the court, kills from six different Tar Heels propelled them to a 10-3 run to close out set two 25-13.
The first ten points of the third set alternated between Duke and UNC, followed by exchanged scoring runs. UNC continued its versatile attack, with kills from junior Skyy Howard, sophomore Kaya Merkler, Shaffmaster and Robinson. Compared to the second set, the Blue Devils kept the first half relatively close, with the Tar Heels up 16-12. However, a pair of aces bolstered a UNC run to put the team up 20-12. After the teams traded aces, kills and service errors, UNC won the third set 25-19.
Who stood out?
Coming off a double-double against N.C. State, Shaffmaster continued to impress, leading both teams with 13 kills. Robinson’s nine kills proved to be crucial momentum swings throughout the match.
Additionally, graduate Meghan Neelon had a game high 30 assists. Neelon has consistently played an integral role in passing ever since North Carolina changed its style to single-setter.
Junior Karenna Wurl also shone on the defensive end, leading both teams with 13 digs.
When was it decided?
Duke trailed UNC for the majority of the match. The Blue Devils kept the first set close, but could not keep up with the Tar Heels’ scoring run in the second set. After a tightly contested half in the third set, UNC’s five consecutive points gave it a 20-12 lead that Duke could not recover from.
Although the teams were almost equal in attacks, blocks and aces, the polarity in kills and digs made the difference. Duke had 94 attacks but only 24 kills, while UNC had 92 attacks, converting 43 into kills. Duke’s hit rate totaled at 0.064, almost five times lower than UNC’s 0.304.
Why does it matter?
After dropping four consecutive matches, the Tar Heels are now on a six-game winning streak, all of which have been against conference opponents. Moreover, North Carolina has only dropped two sets during their streak.
UNC has eight games left, all of which are conference matchups. This win only adds to its much-needed momentum if the team wants to contest ACC powerhouses Georgia Tech and Louisville, as the No. 2 ranked Cardinals are undefeated.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Atlanta next Friday for their conference game against Georgia Tech. The match will begin at 7:00 p.m.
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