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UNC volleyball stumbles after first set in 3-1 loss to No. 10 Georgia Tech

UNC sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster (9) hits the ball during the volleyball match against Georgia Tech on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 at Carmichael Arena.

The North Carolina volleyball team (13-9, 5-6 ACC) fell to No. 10 Georgia Tech (16-4, 9-2 ACC), 3-1, in Carmichael Arena on Friday evening.

What happened?

UNC took the first two points of the opening set off a pair of offensive errors by the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech scored the next three points off attack errors from UNC graduate outside hitter Charley Niego and sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster.

The teams continued to trade short runs with Georgia Tech slowly distancing itself from North Carolina. Just when it seemed the Yellow Jackets began to pull away in the first set with a 19-15 lead, the Tar Heels erupted with seven unanswered points. Kills from Niego and senior middle hitter Skyy Howard, along with a service ace from first-year libero Maddy May, contributed to the scoring run.

After Georgia Tech battled back to tie the set at 24-24, UNC first-year setter Anita Babic dumped the ball to an empty far right corner for a point. Shaffmaster then closed out the set with a spike down the middle.

However, the one-set lead was short-lived. Georgia Tech stormed back to dominate the second set, 25-8. The Yellow Jackets were backed by five kills from star outside hitter Julia Bergmann.

The Tar Heels seemed to regain composure in the third set, only trailing by three points throughout the first half. Coming out of the media timeout, however, the Yellow Jacket lead grew to six points, forcing UNC head coach Joe Sagula to take a timeout. A Georgia Tech service error along with a Merkler kill was made up for kills from Yellow Jacket middle blocker Erin Moss and outside hitter Tamara Otene.

A 3-0 Tar Heel run backed by a Shaffmaster service ace and kill cut the Georgia Tech lead to 20-16, but the Yellowjackets exploded for a 5-0 run close the set, taking a 2-1 lead.

The final set was much like the first and third,with the Yellowjackets gradually pulling away through trading small runs with UNC. With a 13-11 lead, Georgia Tech went on a 5-0 run, to which North Carolina responded with a 3-0 run with kills from Babic, Howard and Merkler. 

After the Yellow Jackets went on a 4-0 run to take a firm 22-14 lead, Shaffmaster notched back-to-back kills as part of a 5-0 run in an attempt to will the Tar Heels back into contention. However, Georgia Tech eventually clinched the match off a pair of kills from Bergmann and outside hitter Bianca Bertolino.

Who stood out?

Howard’s confidence and poise fueled the Tar Heels throughout the match, despite the Yellow Jackets holding a commanding lead for most of the game. The Charlotte native finished with eight kills and four blocks.

Georgia Tech setter Isabella D’Amico registered a game-high 49 assists. Additionally, the front line tandem of Bergmann and Otene combined for 38 total kills — over half of the Yellow Jackets’ kills.

When was it decided?

Although the Tar Heels stunned Georgia Tech by narrowly stealing the first set by two points, the Yellow Jackets dominated the rest of the match, particularly in the second set.

Statistically, Georgia Tech bested North Carolina in almost every category, with an impressive .282 hitting percentage, 68 digs and 61 kills — almost double that of UNC.

Why does it matter?

A quality, hard-fought win over the No. 10 team in the country would have undoubtedly been the highlight of North Carolina’s otherwise struggling season. However, with tonight’s loss, the Tar Heels remain in the middle of ACC standings.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will return home to face Clemson on Sunday at 1 p.m.


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Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.