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The Daily Tar Heel

Dominant blocking propels UNC volleyball to 3-1 win over Clemson

Junior Kaya Merkler (14) and Graduate Charley Niego (5) block a slam on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, at Carmicheal Arena. The match is tied 1-1 after 2 sets.

The North Carolina volleyball team (14-9, 6-6 ACC) defeated the Clemson Tigers (12-13, 3-10 ACC) in a decisive 3-1 match Sunday afternoon.

What happened?

At the beginning of the first set sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster and senior middle hitter Skyy Howard were spearheading UNC’s offense with disciplined swings to a scrappy Clemson defense. 

UNC began to commit hitting errors, leading to a 9-12 deficit. With consistent hustle plays from the entire UNC team, the Tar Heels chipped away at the Tigers' lead, gaining a new Tar Heel lead of 14-13. 

Later in the set, an assist from graduate outside hitter Charley Niego to Howard led to a 21-20 lead for the Tar Heels. Both the Tigers and the Tar Heels had similar energy throughout the first set. With a huge kill down the line from Clemson’s junior outside hitter Cate Long, the game was brought to set point for the Tigers. It was decided with a Clemson ace making it a close 25-23 win for the Tigers.

The Tar Heels came out in the second set on fire, allowing few opportunities for Clemson to send the ball back. With serve receive and hitting errors from the Tigers, they were forced to call a timeout after falling behind 4-0. 

With back-to-back terminating swings to Clemson’s left pin by Shaffmaster, the Tar Heels made a huge gap with a 7-1 lead. 

The Tigers soon began to fall apart, while UNC stayed consistent and disciplined with service aces from redshirt junior defensive specialist Olivia Diaz. To serve the set point, senior defensive specialist Karenna Wurl came into the game for the first time since being out since the Tar Heel’s first game in August against Colorado State. A swing from Shaffmaster finally won the second set for UNC 25-16.

UNC once again came out dominant to start the third set. Babic was all over the court, sending consistent sets to all of her hitters. Huge terminating blocks from junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler forced Clemson head coach Jackie Kirr to make a hitting change while UNC led 15-8. 

However, nothing was able to stop the fierce offense and defense led by Niego, Shaffmaster  and Babic. The Tar Heels claimed a dominant 23-13 score as first-year libero Maddy May sent back-to-back aggressive serves to the Tigers. To keep pace with the trajectory of the game, a huge terminating block from Howard allowed the Tar Heels to claim the third set 25-14.

Both teams came out strong in the fourth set, and Clemson’s 5-2 lead forced UNC head coach Joe Sagula to take a timeout. 

With terminating hits from Shaffmaster and Niego, the Tar Heels began to chip away at the Tigers' lead, bringing the score to 7-6. Out of a timeout called by Clemson, Howard had a huge stuff block. Throughout the entire set, the Tar Heels were playing a team-oriented game with energy coming from both the court and the bench. With an aggressive Babic serve, first-year middle hitter Liv Mogridge blocked the return by Clemson to claim the Tar Heel win with a 25-21 fourth-set victory.

Who stood out? 

Shaffmaster not only was terminating nearly every ball sent to her with 21 kills, but she also had a great defense presence — racking up an impressive 17 digs. 

Babic accumulated 40 assists, and her strategic setting allowed her hitters to send aggressive and consistent swings to the Clemson defense. 

When was it decided?

When the Tar Heels came out in the second set, it was apparent they were going to claim the match. They lowered the number of errors they had while Clemson beat themselves with consistent errors. This energy was carried by the Tar Heels and bubbled over with Howard's block in the fourth set, which silenced the Tigers once and for all.

Why does it matter?

This ACC matchup was vital for the Tar Heels, as it brings them to a 6-6 conference record and gives them the opportunity to move up in the ACC standings.

Moreover, the teams' overall blocking was spectacular throughout the match. Merkler accumulated 8, Mogrdige and Howard rallied 5, and Niego tallied 4. The Tar Heels had a total of 17 blocks, the most in a single match since 2019.

When do they play next?

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The Tar Heels travel to Notre Dame for their next matchup on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.

@dthsports |