The North Carolina volleyball team (9-4, 1-1 ACC) defeated Virginia (8-5, 0-2 ACC), 3-2, in a thrilling comeback victory after being down two sets on Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville.
UNC looked to control the opening set early after going on a 4-0 run for a 10-4 lead, but two Virginia service aces bolstered a 5-0 Cavalier run. The teams continued to trade runs midway through the set.
Tied at 16 apiece, Virginia slowly began to break away with kills from middle players Abby Tadder and Mary Shaffer. Kills from UNC sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster helped keep the Tar Heels in it, but the Cavaliers eventually took the set 25-22.
The teams continued their back-and-forth battle early in the second set, trading short runs until the set was tied at 16-16. Then, two service aces from outside hitter Grace Turner inflated into a 5-0 run despite North Carolina head coach Joe Sagula taking a timeout between each ace. The Cavaliers closed out the second set, 25-20, with a 3-0 run spearheaded by a Turner kill and block.
From there, the Tar Heels exploded to a 14-5 start in the third set. Key plays included a solo block from junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler, along with first-year setter Anita Babic and Shaffmaster taking turns assisting each other on consecutive plays. North Carolina maintained its firm 10 point lead to take the third set, 25-15.
Much like the third set, UNC took an early 15-5 lead. Highlights came from a Shaffmaster solo block to go with service aces from first-year libero Maddy May and senior outside hitter Parker Austin. The Tar Heels continued to dominate, taking the fourth set 25-14.
Naturally, the final set was the closest. Turner and Babic traded service aces, followed by costly service errors from Virginia setter Gabby Easton and UNC first-year libero Carson Overbeck. Ultimately, kills from Shaffmater and first-year middle hitter Liv Mogridge came up clutch late in the set. The Tar Heels closed out the match on a 3-0 run.
Who stood out?
Shaffmaster had a team-high 17 kills to go with 11 digs, with Overback and Austin contributing nine digs each. Additionally, Babic’s 44 assists paved the way for an impressive .296 hitting percentage from the Tar Heels, to go with four service aces.
Moreover, Mogridge shined for UNC on the road, totaling 13 kills and five blocks — both career-highs.
When was it decided?
Despite dominating the third and fourth sets, UNC’s momentum slowed down in the fifth set, going to deuce. Two Shaffmaster serves led to two Virginia attack errors, giving North Carolina the tiebreaker set 16-14.
Overall, it was North Carolina’s .296 hitting percentage that bested Virginia’s .205, allowing the Tar Heels to acquire such momentum to begin with.
Why does it matter?
In the absence of veteran outside hitter Charley Niego, Mogridge stepped up and displayed an impressive .600 hitting percentage. In North Carolina’s first five-set match on the road, Mogridge’s performance demonstrated poise and skill contrary to her youth.
After falling to No. 10 Pittsburgh on the road two days before to open ACC play, a short-handed, down-to-the-wire win is just what the Tar Heels needed. As conference play kicks in and competition begins to ramp up against the likes of Louisville and Georgia Tech, UNC will need every quality win to boost its resume and return to the NCAA Tournament.
When do they play next?
After playing on the road for almost three weeks, the Tar Heels will return to Carmichael Arena to face Miami on Friday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m.
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