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UNC volleyball drops second match of weekend in five set loss to Notre Dame

UNC graduate outside hitter Emani' Foster (8) reaches for the ball in the Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 game in Carmichael Arena against Notre Dame. UNC lost to Notre Dame 3 to 2.

The North Carolina volleyball team (7-8, 1-5 ACC) lost in five sets against Notre Dame (9-5, 3-3 ACC) on Sunday afternoon in Carmichael Arena. 

Early struggles getting around the block and adjusting to different players on the court led to the Tar Heels' five-set loss. Leading the way for North Carolina was veteran outside hitter Emani’ Foster, who racked up 13 kills in the match. 

After losing in four tight sets to No. 6 Louisville on Friday night, UNC looked to bounce back on Sunday in their match against the Fighting Irish. With junior outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster back in the lineup for the Tar Heels and the team at full health, UNC was in good position for the ACC matchup. 

In the first set, Notre Dame’s attackers put pressure on sophomore libero Maddy May and the UNC defensive line. A series of overpasses allowed the Fighting Irish to capitalize and put the ball away. Tied at eight apiece, Foster finally found success with a kill that brushed the hands of Notre Dame’s blockers. 

With sophomore setter Anita Babic back to serve, the Tar Heels went on a 7-0 scoring run, supplemented by one ace from Babic. Shaffmaster then checked in to serve for the first time following a week out due to injury. Head coach Mike Schall acknowledged that it is “hard to just throw somebody right back into the lineup, especially somebody like her that typically carries a heavy load.”

UNC sophomore setter Anita Babic (12) sets the ball in the Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 game in Carmichael Arena against Notre Dame. UNC lost to Notre Dame 3 to 2.

Despite blocking struggles from Babic and sophomore middle blocker Sadie Swift, UNC held their lead at 17-11. North Carolina’s serves continued to hold strong with a total of four aces in the first set, helping to close the 25-17 victory.

For Notre Dame, setter Nicole Drewnick and middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff continued to be forces at the net, stuffing Foster and first-year outside hitter Safi Hampton. 

“When they started getting better quality touches, we needed to probably move the ball around a little bit more with off speed,” Schall said. “And we didn't. We didn't find those holes well enough and consistently enough.”

With May at the service line, the Tar Heels found their momentum on a 6-0 run, pushing the lead to 20-11. Foster continued to lead the way for the Tar Heels, sealing the 25-20 second set win with her fourth kill.

In the third set, UNC was forced to fight from behind, trailing 14-5 early on and later finding themselves in a 10 point deficit. Even with small spurts of good play, the Tar Heels could not dig themselves out of the hole and dropped the set, 25-12.

“It's nice to be up 2-0 when you're not playing your best, but it wasn't enough,” Schall said. “And the thing that our group as a whole has to learn is that everybody's capable, and we can't look at standings, we can't look at anything other than, let's lay some up and compete.”

Schall put his starting six back in for the fourth set with hopes of preventing a Notre Dame comeback. Yet, UNC found themselves pushing from behind once again, down 17-9 midway through the set. 

In an effort to switch things up, Schall made a setter change and subbed graduate setter Maria Miggins in for Babic. Although UNC started to rally, it was not enough as Notre Dame won the set, 25-16. 

In the fifth and deciding set, Shaffmaster rotated to the front row for the first time in the match. In doing so, Babic continually fed her on the outside, allowing Shaffmaster to record four kills in the fifth set.  

UNC junior outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster (9) bumps the ball in the Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 game in Carmichael Arena against Notre Dame. UNC lost to Notre Dame 3 to 2.

After a challenge call from Notre Dame head coach Salima Rockwell ruled in UNC’s favor, senior middle blocker Kaya Merkler stuffed the Notre Dame attack to give North Carolina a 8-7 advantage. In spite of long-fought rallies, Notre Dame completed the reverse sweep of UNC, winning the fifth set 15-10. 

Over the course of the match, Schall played 13 of his 16 players. Schall feels it is his responsibility to “put [the team] in a better position to win a match rather than just the first two sets of one.”

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“When players on the floor aren't performing great, we have to look for other solutions, and we have some,” Schall said. “I just  don't think a whole lot worked for us in sets three through five.”

North Carolina will begin its three week road trip on Friday at 6 p.m against Syracuse.


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