In their second game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the North Carolina volleyball team (5-3) saw their third loss of the season against Michigan (7-1), 3-0, at Carmichael Arena on Saturday evening.
The Tar Heels had a strong start to the game, with multiple successful blocks that allowed them to take the early lead. Michigan did not allow North Carolina to get very far ahead on the scoreboard by showing their ability to generate firepower from their kills. The Tar Heel’s lack of offensive power and several errors gave Michigan the opportunity to win the set 25-20.
A weak start to the second half gave Michigan a sizable advantage, but North Carolina was able to cut the distance with some strong offensive play and tie the set at 23-23. Graduate outside hitter Charley Niego’s strong attacking capabilities were critical for the Tar Heels to remain alive in the second set.
Michigan still ended up taking the set 26-24, giving them a 2-0 lead in the match.
North Carolina was steadily behind on the scoreboard throughout the third and final set of the match. As in the other sets, Michigan’s firepower at the net was unrivaled by the Tar Heels. The Wolverines defeated North Carolina 25-23 in the third set, closing out the match 3-0.
In the end, it was Michigan’s strong attacking capabilities that overpowered the Tar Heels. Michigan had 44 kills to North Carolina's 34.
Who stood out?
North Carolina’s attack was led by Niego. She helped the team at the net with 30 attacks and seven kills. Niego’s excellent attacking abilities allowed the Tar Heels to remain competitive until the end of the match.
Junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler excelled in the second set. With zero errors and ten kills, she was one of the best players for the Tar Heels. Her lack of errors shows how reliable she is as a player.
When was it decided?
After Michigan won the highly disputed second set, it became an uphill battle for the Tar Heels to come back. Though not impossible, UNC needed to win three sets in a row.
North Carolina dropped the next set 25-23 to seal the game.
Why does it matter?
This game was important for North Carolina to continue building positive momentum and to put the early season losses against Colorado State and Northern Colorado in the past. It was also important for the Tar Heels to end the week on a positive note to be prepared to face three tough opponents in next week’s VCU Invitational. Today’s loss is a backward step in the team’s momentum.
As UNC gets deeper in the season, it will have to grow from the mistakes the team made Saturday night. The game against Michigan helped the Tar Heels identify that they need more firepower in their attacks to close out more points with kills.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will be on the road next week to face Old Dominion in Richmond, V.a. on Friday.
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