CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - In a tightly contested match between conference rivals, North Carolina narrowly edged the Duke volleyball team 3-2 (25-22, 22-25, 21-25, 25-22, 7-15) in front of 1,863 fans Sunday afternoon at Carmichael Arena.
Trailing 2-1 overall, the Blue Devils (9-5, 0-2 ACC) found themselves down 7-2 in the fourth set before rallying for the 25-22 victory to force a fifth frame. However, a slow start proved insurmountable as North Carolina (11-2, 2-1 ACC) would claim the final set for the victory.
Three Blue Devils reached double digit kills on the day, led by sophomore outside hitter Jeme Obeime with a match-high 17. Senior middle blocker Christiana Gray knocked down 13 kills to go along with five blocks and freshman outside hitter Breanna Atkinson registered her first career double-double with 10 kills and 11 digs. Fellow rookie Christina Vucich almost picked up her second double-double as well, amassing nine kills and 45 assists.
Duke's defense, led by a 33-dig performance from junior libero Ali MCCurdy, limited the Tar Heels to a .188 hitting percentage for the match. The Blue Devils totaled a season-high 14 team blocks with junior middle blocker Chelsea Cook totaling eight stops.
"I think our team did a good job of handling the many different hitters [North Carolina] had in there today and of adjusting to them throughout the match," said head coach Jolene Nagel. "We broke down a little bit at points, but I was proud of the way our team kept their focus, came back around and started to execute. We have a lot we will continue to work on to get better, but, for where we are right now, I thought our team did some really good things today."
Neither squad was able to build a lead in a back-and-forth first set. The Blue Devils scored three straight with the score tied at 15-all to take control of the opening frame, 18-15. The Tar Heels narrowed the gap to 21-20 following a kill by Tia Gaffen, but the Blue Devils closed out with a 4-2 run, including Atkinson's fourth kill of the set, to take the first game 25-22.
Facing a 16-12 deficit in the second set, the Blue Devils rallied with a 10-4 run behind three kills from Obeime for the 22-20 lead. However, the Tar Heels scored five consecutive points behind two service aces from Emily McGee to win the set, 25-22.
An early seven-point North Carolina advantage proved too much to overcome for Duke in the third frame. The Blue Devils closed the margin to 21-18 with consecutive kills from Gray and Vucich, but were unable to cut the deficit any further as North Carolina took a 2-1 overall lead.
Duke trailed 7-2 to start the fourth stanza before mounting a comeback spurred by a strong defensive effort. Down 16-13, the Blue Devils would outscore the Tar Heels 12-6 the rest of the way, utilizing six team blocks to limit UNC to a match-low .111 hitting percentage.
Yet it would be North Carolina who jumped out to the early lead in the fifth and final set as the Tar Heels built a 9-4 margin following three straight kills by Gaffen. Duke was unable to cut into the UNC lead and North Carolina ended the match with a McGee kill.
McGee was one of four Tar Heels to total double digit kills, finishing with 15 to go along with 13 digs. Kayla Berringer led UNC with 16 kills, while Chaniel Nelson added 15 and Gaffen 13.
The Blue Devils return to action Friday, September 28 at 7 p.m., traveling to Coral Gables Fla., to take on Miami.
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