The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 28th

Rivalry crowd carries UNC volleyball to 3-1 win over Duke

<p>UNC first-year libero/defensive specialist Maddy May (25) prepares to hit the ball during the volleyball match against Georgia Tech on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at Carmichael Arena. UNC lost 3-1.</p>
Buy Photos UNC first-year libero/defensive specialist Maddy May (25) prepares to hit the ball during the volleyball match against Georgia Tech on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at Carmichael Arena.

As the North Carolina campus fell silent — a victim of the desolate strain of the first day of Thanksgiving break — Carmichael Arena was making up for the loss campus felt. 

The power rippling between nearly 2,000 fans gathered to watch the UNC volleyball team on Wednesday provided an atmosphere of unmatched energy for the rivalry game against Duke. Such a feeling inspired the Tar Heels and pushed them to play with passion in a 3-1 win over the Blue Devils.

"It was awesome," Head Coach Joe Sagula said. "It may have been one of the best crowds we've seen, and it inspired our team."

The energy of the crowd set first-year libero Maddy May on fire throughout the game. She consistently passed dimes in serve receive off of hard-driven float serves. Duke sent dominant swings to terminate the ball, but these hopes were routinely cut short as May swooped under the ball. 

Despite a defensive rearrangement in the first set — May played middle back rather than left back — she rallied 16 digs throughout the match. 

"It was so much fun to play with this crowd," she said. "Their energy was so infectious and it made me play better."

After picking up a 25-18 first-set win, UNC quickly fell behind in second-set play. 

As Duke began to find its rhythm behind strong kills from senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson, the Tar Heels struggled to stay disciplined in their play and the team's communication began to falter. The Tar Heels accumulated more mistakes, fell quiet and got into their own heads, leaving an opening as the Blue Devils took the second set, 25-19.

However, this shift only fueled UNC fans as they rose to their feet to cheer on a hard-battled third set. UNC began to regain its confidence as first-year setter Anita Babic sent well-placed balls to North Carolina's middle hitters, first-year Liv Mogridge and junior Kaya Merkler. The Tar Heels began to rely on these middles, a shift from the usual outside dominance. 

The crowd noticed as Mogridge sent quick hard swings straight down to the left side of Duke's middle-back defender, sending shock waves throughout the arena. 

"We love large crowds where our fans are engaged," senior middle hitter Skyy Howard said. "It gives us the fuel to keep going and the confidence we are Carolina, and we will prove it." 

Howard has emphasized blocking throughout her volleyball career and put it on display against the Blue Devils Wednesday. In a hard-fought third set, UNC began to pull away with a huge stuff block from Howard. 

Soon, shirts were being thrown in every direction from the UNC bench in celebration as fans high-fived one another in excitement.

The Tar Heels were determined to win in the fourth set. 

The Blue Devils kept things close until midway through the set when sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster and Babic strung together kills. This was followed by a Duke attack error and a service ace from redshirt first-year Carson Overbeck.

With UNC leading 24-17, spectators took to their feet, holding up the number one with their fingers to signal match point. 

Thanks to a kill from Mogridge, the Tar Heels officially downed the Blue Devils. The UNC bench sprinted to the court and no fan remained in their seat.

"It's always wonderful to beat Duke," Sagula said. "In our gym, at the end of the season, it's a special day." 

@sydneybeyer

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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