In a decisive 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-18) win over the Boston College Eagles on Friday in Carmichael Arena, North Carolina was powered by kills from sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler and graduate outside hitter Charley Niego.
However, these concise kills didn’t come without the assistance of first-year setter Anita Babic. She tallied a total of 36 assists throughout the three-set match, more than the entire Boston College team recorded on Friday, to help UNC earn its sixth sweep of the season.
With Babic powering the attack, the Tar Heels outhit the Eagles .340 to .152 in the victory and achieved their second-best attacking performance of the season, just behind a September win over South Carolina. This is just the second time so far this season that the team has hit above .300.
The connection between Babic and Shaffmaster was unstoppable. Babic, a first-year setter running a 5-1 rotation, sent consistent sets to the outside. Here, Shaffmaster crushed the ball into the seam of Boston College’s middle and left back positions, forcing a defensive rearrangement for the Eagles. Shaffmaster ended the night with a match-best 12 kills.
During the first set, the Tar Heels came out on fire, downing Boston College 25-15. Not only did the Tar Heels have energy on the court, but they also were consistently loud from the sidelines. Rather than lower their play to that of BC, they remained tenacious, accumulating 19 kills throughout the first set, largely thanks to Babic’s setting abilities.
Stepping into her dominant role as a consistent starting setter, Babic has been learning her hitter’s tendencies, and it all came to fruition in this match against the Eagles.
“Some of the plays she has been running, she wouldn't have done two weeks ago,” Shaffmaster said of Babic. “It's great to see her improving and gaining confidence for college volleyball.”
After crushing Boston College in the first set, the Tar Heels had a rocky start coming into the second. Many unforced errors were coming from the North Carolina side with little communication. However, what stayed consistent even throughout errors was the connection between Babic and Shaffmaster.
“The first week it was hard for us to connect with me being a first year,” Babic said. "Once we got it together, it was amazing.”
When head coach Joe Sagula called a timeout while UNC was down 5-11 in the second set, he expressed the need for the team to work smarter rather than harder. Returning to the court after the timeout, Shaffmaster came out with a huge solo stuff block that brought the team’s energy and play back to where it was during the first set.
From there, the Boston College lead was chipped away by Babic, with multiple back-to-back aces from the service line. Although the Tar Heels initially trailed throughout the set, they made an impressive comeback, taking the second set 25-21.
Babic continued her success streak coming into the third set while adjusting to the new hitters entering the game, like first-year outside hitter Ava Swain, who later claimed the match-winning kill.
Senior outside hitter Parker Austin, who tallied 12 digs, echoed Shaffmaster’s praise for Babic’s growth over the course of the season.
“It was a bit of a rocky start learning to play with a whole new person (Babic), but she is so open-minded,” Austin said. “That confidence is huge for this team sport because she's our quarterback.”
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