The North Carolina volleyball team (18-5, 7-5 ACC) won a thrilling match Sunday afternoon at Clemson (11-12, 3-9 ACC), taking down the Tigers 3-2. This was the Tar Heels’ third five-set match this season, and after splitting the previous two, UNC played its most exciting match so far to finish its two-game road trip.
The first set started off poorly with a service error from first-year outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, and Clemson soon took a 7-5 lead. From there, UNC found its footing and won six straight points to hold an 11-7 advantage, with Shaffmaster and graduate outside hitter Nia Robinson combining to win four of those six points. After another six to nothing run later in the set, highlighted by back-to-back service aces by senior defensive specialist Ryan Shannon, the Tar Heels led 19-12 and later won the first frame 25-17.
The two teams fought back and forth during the second set, as neither squad won more than three consecutive points. Clemson served first and soon held a 5-1 lead, but after trading punches throughout the frame, the Tar Heels evened the score at 23. Eventually, the Tigers took the last two points and won the set 25-23.
Following the afternoon’s theme, North Carolina and Clemson yet again fought tooth and nail in a highly competitive third set. UNC earned the first three points and eight of the first ten, but the Tigers mounted a furious comeback and, despite Shaffmaster spiking a highlight-reel missile to earn the Tar Heels’ sixteenth point, eventually took a 20-18 lead.
UNC needed to overcome the two-point deficit to win the set, but Clemson went up 22-20. Two Tiger attacking errors helped North Carolina win five of the next six points, and UNC ultimately pulled out the set 25-23 to go up 2-1 in the best-of-five match.
Clemson took the fourth set despite a 5-0 UNC run that gave the Tar Heels a 16-15 advantage.The Tigers won 10 of the next 14 points to set up the winner-take-all fifth set.
Playing to 15, win by two, North Carolina and Clemson took the final frame down to the very end. UNC senior middle hitter Amanda Phegley got things started with a kill off the assist from graduate setter Meghan Neelon, and the Tar Heels quickly got out to a 9-5 lead. The Tigers didn’t fold, winning the next four points to tie the set at nine. Kills from Neelon and Robinson – along with a Clemson attacking error – helped give UNC a 13-10 advantage, but as had been the case all afternoon, the Tigers fought back. They forced a 14-14 tie and the winner needed to win by two to take the match. North Carolina’s redshirt-sophomore defensive specialist Olivia Diaz set up Shaffmaster for a kill that put the Tar Heels halfway home, and another Clemson attacking error sealed the UNC victory 16-14.
Who stood out?
Shaffmaster continued her incredible first season and led the Tar Heels in kills with 20, followed by Robinson and Phegley with 16 each. Shannon served four aces and Shaffmaster recorded two, and sophomore outside hitter Kaya Merkler led the block party with six blocks. Neelon accounted for 59 assists, by far the most on the team, and Diaz led the team in digs with 18.
When was it decided?
This match truly went down to the final two points, as the Tar Heels turned a 14-14 tie into a two-point victory. in the fifth set.
Why does it matter?
UNC earned some much-needed momentum after its shutout loss to Georgia Tech on Friday, and Shaffmaster continued to amaze despite being just a first-year. She and Robinson have formed a terrific duo of outside hitters for Neelon to find at the net, and the trio will need to play its best as they move towards the postseason.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels host Notre Dame on Friday night at 6 p.m.
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