The North Carolina volleyball team (11-8, 3-5 ACC) lost 3-2 at home to Syracuse (9-9, 5-3 ACC) to finish their weekend of ACC play with a 1-1 record.
The Tar Heels jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in the first set by capitalizing on two Orange errors, as graduate outside hitter Charley Niego spearheaded the Tar Heels’ offensive attack with two early kills.
UNC maintained its lead and extended it to as many as seven points before Syracuse called a timeout to address its first-set struggles. The Tar Heels remained dominant after the timeout break, going on a 5-3 run to put themselves ahead 21-12. UNC gave up a 5-2 run late, which put Syracuse five points away from their lead. Niego ended any hopes the Orange had of making a comeback, however, by scoring the set’s final kill to give UNC a 25-19 first-set victory.
Neither team could pull away from the other for most of the second set, as the largest lead of the set until well past the halfway point was early on when the Tar Heels led 8-5. Syracuse’s early errors, complemented by junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler’s offensive production, fueled UNC for most of the set. But with the set tied at 17, the Tar Heels watched Syracuse’s lead grow to four, trailing the Orange 21-17 late and forcing head coach Joe Sagula to call a timeout. UNC made a comeback attempt it couldn’t finish and fell 25-21 in the second set.
The third set was tightly contested early on, as the set was tied at 11 until UNC yielded four unanswered points to the Orange. Niego’s two kills after the Syracuse 4-0 run, as well as a service ace from first-year libero Maddy May and an error by the Orange, helped UNC trim the lead to just one and put the Tar Heels in position to win the set late. But after trimming Syracuse’s lead, UNC scored just one point compared to Syracuse’s eight, falling 25-17 in the third set.
In the fourth set, sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster’s two kills and Syracuse’s three errors propelled UNC to an early 7-2 advantage over the Orange. After watching their five-point lead diminish as the Orange battled back into the set, Niego and first-year middle hitter Sadie Swift fueled a 5-1 run by each contributing two kills, which put the Tar Heels ahead 17-11. The Tar Heels hung on to their lead and won the fourth set 25-17, in large part thanks to the serving of senior outside hitter Parker Austin, who contributed straight three service aces late in the set.
UNC fell to an early 6-2 deficit in the fifth set, urging Sagula to call a timeout to regroup the team. The Tar Heels continued to struggle after the timeout, and Syracuse extended its lead to 9-3, prompting yet another UNC timeout. The Tar Heels couldn’t mount their fifth-set comeback attempt and lost the set 15-7 and the match 3-2.
Who stood out?