As the UNC and Miami volleyball teams took the floor Friday night, it already felt as though a melancholy mood filled Carmichael Arena.
A leak in the ceiling from the heavy rain caused by Hurricane Ian delayed the start time by over 40 minutes, and this uncertain feeling carried into the match, as the Tar Heels got off to a lackluster start.
As soon as the first set began, the Hurricanes set a dominant tone that ultimately led to a decisive 3-1 victory over the Tar Heels. UNC failed to find an answer to Miami's aggressive and energetic offensive play in the opening set, which paved the way to the team's defeat.
“We’ve got to play hard early” head coach Joe Sagula said. “We played with no emotion, no intensity, not even quality play the first set. We set ourselves up for a lot of failure.”
After a thrilling comeback win at Virginia in its last match, UNC was looking to add a second conference victory to its record. Instead, a lack of momentum and energy caused them to fall behind after the first set and play the rest of the match at a disadvantage.
Consistency and passing were key to the Hurricanes' dominance, as they made their way to a 25-14 first set win. Despite the fact that neither team had particularly long scoring runs, Miami's solid defense, coupled with multiple Tar Heel attack errors, put the Hurricanes out in front.
“We came out a little unprepared,” junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler said. “We came out thinking it would be a little easier than it was, and that lapse of judgment really just tanked us in the beginning.”
Miami, on the other hand, came out firing and capitalized on the slow-moving Tar Heels. In the first set, the Hurricanes' outside hitter Angela Grieve registered four of what would become 21 total kills.
Defense was also a struggle for the Tar Heels, as the Hurricanes got the ball to their strongest players and delivered multiple unanswered kills.
“We knew their outside hitters were good, but we made them really good,” Sagula said.
The Tar Heels were able to gain some momentum and come back for a 25-20 win in the second set. Their energy levels seemed to have risen, and they were finding an answer for Grieve through three service aces and the offense was led by sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, first-year middle hitter Liv Mogridge and graduate outside hitter Charley Niego.
However, this newfound momentum was not enough to propel the Tar Heels to a win in the remaining sets, as they ultimately fell 25-20 and 25-23 in the third and fourth sets. These losses largely stemmed from a lack of strong passes, which was something Miami was able to accomplish successfully throughout the game.
UNC's inability to keep momentum was hammered home by Miami coming back from a 21-17 deficit in the final set to claim the victory.
“Even when we did well tonight, I don’t feel like we looked like we were doing well,” Sagula said. “We started to find ourselves and play inspired, but we never took hold of that.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s game against Florida State, the team hopes to take a step forward with a renewed mentality. With seven true first-years on the team, there is increased importance in keeping morale high, and using these losses as learning moments.
When asked what they were going to focus on going forward to counteract Friday's lack of energy, Shaffmaster's response was simple.
“Playing with heart," she said. "I don’t think we played our best at all.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.