In this Sunday's 3-1 conference win against Clemson, 21 of UNC volleyball's kills were preceded by a flash of pink hair against a Carolina Blue uniform.
The kills came from sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, whose dyed hair from the Pink Game against Syracuse two weeks earlier hadn't returned to its typical blonde.
“Mabrey was special,” head coach Joe Sagula said. “She was the most dominant player in the gym today, all weekend, I think. She’s elevated her game.
This win at Carmichael Arena saw Shaffmaster registering her joint-second-highest kill tally of the season and tying her season-high in digs with 18 — helping the Tar Heels win points they might not have taken otherwise.
The double-double was Shaffmaster’s 11th of the season, showcasing the defensive improvements she's made. Last year, she only had nine double-doubles during the entire campaign.
“I’ve been working really hard on my defensive practice and not going in on offensive drills as much, because I think my offense is pretty ingrained in my mind by now,” Shaffmaster said. “I’m just really trying to work within my feet more and have, as my team says, twinkle toes.”
The Tar Heels posted 18 blocks, their most in a game since the 2019 season. Junior middle hitter Kaya Merkler led the way with a career-high nine blocks.
“The key to (getting blocks) was just identifying their really strong attackers and always being ready to go to them before anyone else,” Merkler said. “Props to their setter. She’s really good at turning the ball so she kept me on my toes. Just focusing in and trying to read their movements helped out.”
UNC and Clemson went back and forth in the first set with eight lead changes and 15 ties, but the Tigers won the set 25-23 in part to nine North Carolina errors, including eight attack errors.
However, Shaffmaster and Merkler helped the Tar Heels turn it around to win the next three sets: 25-17, 25-14, and 25-21, respectively.
“Early in the game, their timing was off a little, which gave us some trouble,” Sagula said. “We settled in though, which was good. I liked how we played in the second and third set. We dominated off of how strong we served and our commitment to defense.”
Sunday’s game marked the return of team captain and senior libero Karenna Wurl, who had missed all but one with an injury. When she entered the game in the first set, the bench erupted.
“It’s kind of crazy that I’ve been out for almost three months now,” Wurl said. “Everyone’s been so supportive the whole time, so it feels good, and I felt the happiness on the court.”
As Wurl collected her thoughts, no one seemed to be happier than Shaffmaster, who smiled throughout the entire interview.
For a team looking to get hot at the right time, Shaffmaster understands the importance of the Tar Heels having their captain back in the fold. But if Sunday was any indication, the sophomore from Indiana plans to make some noise of her own — with or without the pink in her hair.
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