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Wednesday September 28th

UNC volleyball sweeps Michigan State to open up ACC-Big Ten Challenge

<p>&nbsp;UNC senior outside hitter Parker Austin (23) serves the ball during the volleyball match against Michigan State on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, at Carmichael Arena. UNC beat Michigan State 3-0.</p>
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 UNC senior outside hitter Parker Austin (23) serves the ball during the volleyball match against Michigan State on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, at Carmichael Arena. UNC beat Michigan State 3-0.

In the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the North Carolina volleyball team (5-2) dealt the Michigan State Spartans (6-1) their first loss of the season, 3-0, at Carmichael Arena on Friday evening.

What happened?

Powerful kills from MSU outside hitter Maradith O’Gorman bolstered a quick 5-0 run to open up the first set. The early momentum shifted when UNC senior outside hitter Parker Austin landed a service ace, followed by back-to-back kills from graduate outside hitter Charley Niego. O’Gorman responded with another kill.

The Tar Heels, now rejuvenated, strung together a 4-1 run, backed by two powerful swings to the right side from junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler. After a quiet early set, sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster got on the board with two kills to put UNC up 12-9. Just before the first media timeout, Merkler and Austin blocked a hit from MSU outside hitter Aliyah Moore.

The front line tandem of Merkler and Austin continued to stifle the Spartans’ attack, with Merkler picking up another block to give North Carolina a 20-12 lead. Another service ace from Austin helped close out the first set, 25-16.

UNC opened up the second set with a quick 5-2 start, and with three kills each from Shaffmaster and Niego, the Tar Heels held a 15-10 lead at the media timeout. The Spartans stormed back with a 5-1 run including forcing two attacking errors from UNC first-year setter Anita Babic. A service ace from UNC first-year setter Ella Bostic helped slow MSU’s momentum.

A sequence of tight rallies led to both teams taking timeouts towards the end of set two. Niego tallied back-to-back kills to start a 5-0 run that closed out the set 25-19. Then, Merkler picked up her fifth block of the night and fifth kill on the subsequent play.

Both teams slowed down in the third set, electing to tip more than spike their shots. Tied at 6-6, Shaffmaster and Merkler amped up the aggression with a kill each, but the Spartans matched the Tar Heels’ pace and maintained a two-score deficit throughout. Merkler maintained her commanding presence on the right side, adding two more kills before the media timeout.

Shaffmaster committed a blocking error, followed by an attacking error that allowed the Spartans to take the lead, 16-15. UNC and MSU continued to trade scores. With the set tied at 19-19, Moore sent a speedy cross-court spike for a score and Merkler had an attack error as she attempted to deny MSU setter Julia Bishop’s hit.

A challenged point by MSU ruled Babic’s tip-in inbounds. Merkler and Babic blocked Moore’s attack to equalize the set, 21-21. After an MSU timeout, a clutch Merkler kill followed by a Niego service ace forced another MSU timeout.

Shaffmaster was denied a left-side spike yet again, keeping the Spartans in the game. Another trade of scores had the Tar Heels up 24-23, and MSU outside hitter Evie Doezema exposed a wide-open right side for a kill.

After a back-and-forth battle, the Tar Heels won the game when the Spartans were called out of rotation. North Carolina took the third set, 29-27.

Who stood out?

It was Merkler who almost always had a timely answer to the Spartans’ short-lived runs, whether it was a block alongside Austin or a running right-side spike set up by Babic. The Chapel Hill native finished with 10 kills, six blocks and four digs.

The first-year setter duo of Babic and Bostic flourished in their roles, combining for 31 assists. Additionally, Niego registered a game-high 15 kills.

When was it decided?

Though not indicated by the box score, the Spartans battled the Tar Heels until the final point throughout all three sets.

Why does it matter?

After a questionable 1-2 start to the season, UNC has extended its win streak to four games, toppling another undefeated team. UNC’s hitting percentage was significantly more than that of MSU’s, indicating growth in the young setter’s play.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels return to Carmichael Arena on Saturday night to face the Michigan Wolverines (6-0) at 6 p.m.

@danielhwei

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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