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UNC volleyball falters after first set in 3-1 loss to No. 2 Louisville

Sophomore middle and outside hitter Kaya Merkler (14) jumps to spike the ball in the UNC Women's volleyball game against Virginia Tech at the Woolen Gymnasium on Oct. 10. The Heels won 3-0.

Despite a first-set win, the North Carolina volleyball team did not have the power to defeat No. 2 Louisville on Sunday.

A combination of attack errors, service errors and a clear inability to keep with the Cardinals' energy level throughout the the game proved to be the main factors of the loss.

The team displayed a dominant first set, beating the Cardinals, 25-14. This opening-set win is routine for the Tar Heels, who have excelled in the first set all season. But like in previous games, the team failed to secure enough set wins to knock off its opponent.

In Sunday's game, the team gave Louisville the final three sets, confirming the Cardinal win and the Tar Heels' second loss in a row, bringing the team’s conference record to 7-7.

Sophomore middle hitter Kaya Merkler attributed the team’s loss to a lack of aggression throughout the game.

“We need to improve how we close games and sustain a level of aggression so we can keep up with the top teams,” Merkler said. 

Merkler finished the game with only six kills and no assists, compared to her last game, where she racked up eight kills and one assist against Notre Dame. 

While the team visibly has great chemistry, there was a lack of spirit that demonstrated the Tar Heels' inability to finish with as much fire as they started with — a theme that could also be seen during Friday’s match against Notre Dame when they lost 3-0.

UNC has four ACC matches left in the season, the hardest of which will be Miami, who is ranked fourth with a 10-3 conference record.  

Head coach Joe Sagula understood the team’s troubles, saying the team needs to learn how to better sustain a high playing level. 

“We can compete, but we’ve gotta learn how to compete over long stretches, and that includes better ball control, passing and sustaining a level of aggression,” he said.

Despite losing their last two games, the players seem to be focused on enjoying their time together. 

“Louisville is a very good team, and we should work on eliminating runs better,” graduate outside hitter Nia Robinson said. “We’re getting close to the end of the season, so I hope we can all just have fun and enjoy the moment.”

Robinson proved to be a leader in Sunday's game, securing 15 kills and hitting percentage of 25 — an improvement from the previous game, where she achieved 11 kills.

The Tar Heels should be able to overpower their next two road opponents, Virginia Tech and Virginia, as both teams are ranked at the bottom of ACC standings. UNC's last game will be against Duke — a team it previously dominated in September at the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. 

The team must work to reignite its energy. The only way the Tar Heels can secure a win is to translate the aggressiveness they play with in the first set into the following sets.

“Our goal is to win and maintain a level of consistency and effort every match," Sagula said. "If we do that, we’ll be OK."

@dthsports |

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