The UNC volleyball team (21-9) fell to the Tennessee Volunteers (20-9) in four sets in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
The Tar Heels fell early in the first and second sets, facing serve receive trouble and failing to get offensive production going to stack anything more than one four-point run. UNC fell behind in almost every statistic, trailing Tennessee 8-3 in blocks and giving up seven points to service errors. Even outside hitters, graduate Nia Robinson and first-year Mabrey Shaffmaster, could not connect for a kill, and often lost jousts at the front net. These mistakes cost UNC the first two sets, 25-20 and 25-19, respectively.
In the third, the UNC offense began to settle and took its first lead in two sets with a Vol attack error, 9-8. Junior middle blocker Skyy Howard, Robinson and Shaffmaster added onto the Tar Heel kill tally to maintain North Carolina’s lead until the Vols tied the game at 21. The Tar Heels then rallied above 25 and secured two points in a row off a Shaffmaster kill and a junior outside hitter Parker Austin service ace to notch the Tar Heel win, 26-24.
North Carolina began the fourth set with the same stagnant momentum as the first two, dropping six of the first seven point opportunities and quickly falling back to their biggest deficit of the night, 10-2. Despite the slow start, UNC remained alive and closed the gap to 15-18, after which Tennessee scored seven more unanswered points. The Vols’ match point was scored by Ava Bell, who spent her first year at North Carolina before transferring to Tennessee for her remaining three years of eligibility and was the third highest-scorer on her team for the game.
UNC dropped the first round of the NCAA tournament, 3-1.
Who stood out?
Shaffmaster, Robinson, Howard and sophomore outside hitter Kaya Merkler all scored double digits on the evening. Shaffmaster, recently named ACC Freshman of the Year, led the team with 18 kills.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels were quiet in the first two sets, then exploded in the third to just barely stay alive in the game. However, a slow start to the fourth set, free ball conversions and errors gave the majority of the sets to the Rocky Top, knocking the Tar Heels out of the NCAA tournament.
Why does it matter?
This game was UNC’s first postseason matchup since 2016. Going on an 11-match win streak at the beginning of the season, North Carolina displayed great promise in both its rookie and veteran players to make a play in the postseason. But even though North Carolina had advanced past the first round in four of its past five NCAA Tournament appearances, it fell to the Volunteers in their first ever postseason meeting, ending the season 21-9.
When do they play next?
Dropping this game eliminates the Tar Heels from the rest of the NCAA tournament and ends their 2021 season.
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