The North Carolina volleyball team (17-12, 9-9 ACC) defeated Virginia (12-17, 4-14 ACC), 3-0, on senior night and in the Tar Heels’ regular-season finale.
Propelled by three kills on three attempts from sophomore outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, UNC capitalized on several Virginia errors and jumped out to a 10-3 lead early in the first set. The Tar Heels’ strong start prompted the Cavaliers to call a timeout, but UNC kept its foot on the gas after the break, stretching their lead to 17-6 before forcing another Virginia timeout. Shaffmaster continued to drive the Tar Heels to victory late in the first set, recording two kills after the Cavaliers’ second timeout en route to a dominant 25-15 victory.
UNC started strong again in the second set, taking an early 9-2 lead that forced a Virginia timeout. The Tar Heels went on a scoring drought after the timeout that allowed the Cavaliers to score four unanswered points to trim UNC’s advantage to 9-6. The Tar Heels answered Virginia’s run with one of their own, as senior middle hitter Skyy Howard led a 6-2 run with two kills to extend UNC’s lead to 15-8. The Tar Heels and Cavaliers traded scores late in the set, but UNC closed out the set with a 5-2 run that gave them a 25-16 second-set win.
It took the Tar Heels until later in the set to separate themselves from Virginia than in the first two sets, as UNC didn’t take more than a three-point advantage until a Cavaliers’ error put them ahead 12-8. UNC mostly maintained its lead and took an 18-15 lead late in the set, forcing a Virginia timeout. The Tar Heels scored two unanswered points after the timeout, which was part of a 5-0 run that put them ahead 21-15. Virginia drew to within three of UNC’s lead, but the six-point deficit was too much for the Cavaliers to overcome, and the Tar Heels clinched the 25-20 third-set victory.
Who stood out?
Howard made the most of her senior night, recording seven kills with a 28.6 hit percentage, two digs and two blocks. Shaffmaster also had a strong performance, tallying a game-high 12 kills, four digs and three blocks.
When was it decided?
Despite taking a 2-0 match lead, the Cavaliers were well within striking distance of forcing a fourth set in the third set, as Virginia trailed 16-15 just over midway through the set. But a 5-0 run late in the third set that put UNC ahead 21-15 appeared to be the run the Tar Heels needed to seal the victory.
Why does it matter?
Outside of winning on senior night and possibly the team’s last game of the season, beating Virginia is significant for any chances the Tar Heels have of playing in the postseason and for their standing in the ACC.
Before UNC’s match with the Cavaliers, the middle of the ACC standings had five teams with between seven and eight conference wins, including UNC. The Tar Heels’ win against Virginia will go a long way in ensuring that UNC doesn’t take a substantial last-second slide in the conference standings.
The win also bolsters the team’s chances of making the postseason, as the Tar Heels are certainly on the brink of making the tournament with a 9-9 record in the ACC and a 17-12 record overall.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels await the results of the NCAA Tournament selection process to determine if their matchup with the Cavaliers was their last of the season or if they’ll play in the postseason.
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