AMES, Iowa - North Carolina dropped a close 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 16-25, 13-15) match to host Iowa State Friday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Led once again by senior Emily McGee, who tallied nine kills and 14 digs in her final game for Carolina, the Tar Heels were denied their second trip in program history to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
Freshman Paige Neuenfeldt also had a strong match for Carolina, recording 17 kills and nine blocks, and fellow freshman Victoria McPherson finished with 11 kills and five blocks. Senior Cora Harms finished her career with her 17th double-double of the season, totaling 29 assists with 12 digs.
"We knew this was going to be a tough match, and it was everything we thought it would be," UNC head coach Joe Sagula. "I'm so proud of this team, the leadership of the four seniors, of the hard-fought match we played and the belief this team had in each other. Even when we were down, this team believed we were going to win that last set."
"I'm so proud of how we fought, and the team effort we had all the way around. What a great experience it's been for us to play at this high level. Congratulations to a really fine Iowa State team who played great defense. We gave it all tonight, and that's all we could ask our team to do."
"It's a disappointing outcome and end to the season, but I couldn't be any more proud of this team and what they've accomplished this year and the standard they have set for this program," Sagula said.
The Cyclones took the opening set 25-22, hitting a team .277 attack behind Andie Malloy's eight kills and six digs. Junior Kayla Berringer had three kills and two blocks to help the Tar Heels. McGee, Neuenfeldt sophomore Lauren Adkins each added three kills, and McPherson tallied two blocks for UNC. Sophomore Ece Taner had six digs, and Harms also added six assists with four digs.
UNC responded with a stronger set two, taking the frame 25-18 with an improved .267 hitting percentage behind three kills apiece from Neuenfeldt, McPherson and Nelson. The Tar Heels saw dominant play at the net as they recorded five team blocks, led by Neuenfeldt and sophomore Chaniel Nelson who tallied four apiece. Freshman Jordyn Schnabl contributed eight assists and two digs to help UNC even the match.
Despite a scare from the Cyclones, who evened the match at 19 and came within one at Carolina set-point, the Tar Heels held on to claim set three 25-23. Carolina had just a .098 attack, but behind three kills from Adkins and another four blocks from Neuenfeldt and Nelson, it was enough for UNC to take the win. McGee and Nelson each tallied four digs, and Harms had six assists.
Set four was tied at eight before Iowa State rolled on a 12-2 run and carried it through to take the frame 25-16. UNC repeated with a .098 attack as the Cyclones hit a strong .343 with six team blocks and just two errors to Carolina's nine. Neuenfeldt had seven kills, and McGee and Taner each had four digs.
Set five was an intense final frame, with the Cyclones taking a three-point lead to make it 11-8 before the Tar Heels closed it back to 11-10. McPherson had three kills and a block, but four errors and a few calls against Carolina finished out the set in favor of Iowa State. Harms had six assists, and McGee tallied two kills and two blocks as the Tar Heels fought to prolong their season.
North Carolina ended the season with a 26-6 overall mark, finishing third in the ACC with a 16-4 conference record.