The North Carolina volleyball team (21-8, 10-8), narrowly beat rival Duke (16-13, 7-11) for the third time this year to finish the regular season.
The Tar Heels got off to a hot start against their rivals, opening the match with a 5-1 lead. The Blue Devils were able to rally back the score, but North Carolina kept its momentum against Duke throughout the set. Hometown sophomore Kaya Merkler closed the set for the Tar Heels with a kill to finalize a score of 25-20. North Carolina outplayed the Blue Devils in the first set, recording 16 kills to Duke’s 10.
The second set featured a back-and-forth battle between the two teams. As the Tar Heels looked to close out hopes for the Blue Devils, Duke looked to pull themselves back in the match. Both teams managed to keep it even throughout the set, managing to get to 24-24 and a win by two situation. With two back-to-back kills, the Blue Devils topped the Tar Heels and evened up the match at one set a piece.
North Carolina turned the tide around in the third set, jumping out to an early gap against the Blue Devils. The Tar Heels were able to keep a constant pace against Duke similar to the first set, and were able to jump out to a seven point lead at 24-17 with one point left needed. After Duke made a nerve-wracking five-point run on the Tar Heels to bring the score to 24-22, North Carolina closed the set and took a 2-1 lead in the match.
Like the second set, Duke refused to let the Tar Heels finish the match, and the Blue Devils managed to hold a lead throughout the set. North Carolina was able to pitch a comeback nearing the end of the set, but wasn’t able to reach Duke as the Blue Devils tied up the match 2-2.
In the final stretch of a back-and-forth matchup, the Tar Heels were able to put the fourth set behind them and jump to a quick lead in the final shortened tiebreaker set. Playing to 15, North Carolina kept a comfortable gap with Duke to win the set 15-9 and the match 3-2.
Who stood out?
First-year hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster recorded a career-high 27 kills, as well as eight digs. Nia Robinson, a graduate transfer from Northwestern, and Kaya Merkler, a sophomore from Chapel Hill, N.C., had 17 and 13 kills respectively.
When was it decided?
The match wasn’t decided until the final point was won by the Tar Heels. While North Carolina had multiple opportunities to finish off the Blue Devils, they kept coming back and forced a tough nail-biter with the Tar Heels that tested the team’s late game clutch factor.
Why does it matter?
Arguably the most important game of the season, the Tar Heels needed a win as they ride the bubble for a NCAA tournament bid as well as a confidence and momentum boost against arch-rival Duke.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will wait to hear their names called in the selection show for the championship tournament on Sunday, Nov. 28, and if chosen, will play in the first round starting Thursday, Dec. 2.
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