In its home opener, the North Carolina volleyball team (2-2, 0-0 ACC) defeated South Carolina (3-1, 0-0 SEC) in three sets at Carmichael Arena on Friday night.
Following a trip to Colorado to begin the new year, the Tar Heels made their long-awaited return to Chapel Hill on Friday night.
After splitting the first six points, the Tar Heels raced out to an early 13-6 lead thanks to some timely kills by senior Parker Austin and sophomore Mabrey Shaffmaster.
North Carolina continued to gain separation throughout the first set and eventually clinched a 25-11 win. In the set, the Tar Heels had 13 kills and boasted a 0.367 hitting percentage.
Much like the first set, both teams traded blows early and the set was deadlocked at nine points apiece. Then, UNC began to build some momentum.
The Tar Heels scored seven of the next nine points, then after South Carolina scored three straight points to trim the deficit down to two, UNC responded with an 8-3 spurt to go up 24-17.
The Gamecocks clawed all the way back with six straight points to increase the pressure, but first-year setter Ella Bostic found graduate hitter Charley Niego to seal the 25-23 win.
UNC carried this momentum out of the break and into the third set by scoring eight of the first 10 points. South Carolina kept things interesting by trading points for the remainder of the set, yet the Tar Heels’ early lead was enough to pull out a relatively comfortable 25-16 victory.
The team’s offense was very effective in the third and final set, as the Tar Heels finished with 21 kills and an impressive 0.514 hitting percentage.
Who stood out?
The Tar Heels were led offensively by Shaffmaster, who finished the night with 18 kills. Junior middle blocker Kaya Merkler also had an impressive showing, converting eight kills in nine tries.
Bostic and fellow first-year setter Anita Babic kept the offense in rhythm by recording 14 and 20 assists, respectively.
Merkler and Austin were also solid on the defensive end. Merkler registered six blocks and Austin added five of her own.
When was it decided?
After clinching the first set, UNC seemed poised to run away with the victory once the team built a big lead late in the second set before South Carolina fought back to keep the match hanging in the balance.
However, once the Tar Heels squeaked by with the 25-23 win, it gave the team a comfortable match lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels stumbled out of the gate on its season-opening road trip to Colorado, as the team dropped two of its first three matches.
Playing in front of a home crowd of 1,200 fans in attendance, the Tar Heels looked revitalized as they will look to build upon a 2021 campaign that saw the team make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will return to Carmichael Arena on Saturday night to take on Arizona. The match will begin at 6 p.m.
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