CHAPEL HILL – For the second time in six days, No. 8 North Carolina found itself trailing two sets to none in ACC play, but once again the Tar Heels battled all the way back, this time defeating Georgia Tech at home, 3-2 (22-25, 18-25, 25-14, 25-15, 15-8). The win lifts UNC to 23-3 (15-1 ACC), while Georgia Tech falls to 21-7 (12-4 ACC).
“I actually challenged a bunch of them, especially the seniors,” said head coach Joe Sagula of his locker room speech between sets two and three. “I basically said, ‘The seniors need to set the tone and pick it up; you guys need to make a difference going forward,’ and they did.
“I thought the defense got better. I thought Abbey played better defense and both setters picked up their game significantly. I just thought early in the match, our work ethic wasn’t there and that’s why I challenged them to go out there and outwork the opponent. Then, next thing you know, we’re out there up and we’re killing them. We started playing defense, and it wasn’t just the blocking. Sheila had a bunch of digs, the off blockers had digs. We were scrambling and fighting for balls. I couldn’t be any prouder.”
Three Tar Heels posted double-doubles in the match, as setters Abigail Curry and Mariah Evans and libero Sheila Doyle all had 10-or-more assists and digs. Curry recorded her 24th career double-double with 28 assists and a season-high 13 digs, while Evans registered the first of her career with 18 assists and 10 digs. Doyle notched her second double-double and first of the season with a career-high 12 assists to go with a match-best 19 digs.
Carolina’s blocking unit dominated the match, totaling 19.0 stuffs behind three Tar Heels with seven or more. Senior Taylor Treacy slammed a career-high nine blocks on the night, while Taylor Fricano turned away eight and Beth Nordhorn tallied seven, including two solo stuffs early in the third set.
“After we got their timing down, after we saw their tendencies, that’s when it clicked,” said Fricano. “We’re a big team and we can block really well when we get in a rhythm.”
Sophomore Taylor Leath led the match with 17 kills, hitting .353, while Julia Scoles tallied 13 kills and Fricano slammed 10. Freshman Taylor Borup posted eight kills and a .400 clip, while Nordhorn hit .600 with seven.
As a team, UNC out-hit the Yellow Jackets .319 to .146 in the match, including holding Georgia Tech to just .022 hitting over the final three sets.
The Tar Heels have fallen behind 0-2 in a match just three times this season—and won two of those three matches. UNC has erased an 0-2 deficit at least once in each of the past four seasons but did so at home on Saturday for the first time since 2010—also against Georgia Tech.
Carolina raced out to a 16-11 lead to open the match, but Georgia Tech came roaring back, using an 8-1 run to pull in front, 19-17. The Tar Heels battled to retake the lead, 22-21, on a kill by Fricano, but the Yellow Jackets won the final four straight to snatch the opener, 25-22.
The Tar Heels opened the second set with back-to-back hitting errors, but fought back to pull in front, 9-8, on a kill by Treacy. The set remained neck and neck until a pair of kills by Annika Van Gunst helped the Yellow Jackets pull ahead, 15-12. Carolina never again got closer than two points, and GT once again closed the set on a four-point run to take set two, 25-18.
After an energizing meeting in the locker room, Carolina stormed out of the break to race ahead 9-2. Four straight Carolina kills made it 14-6 and two by Scoles made it 21-13. An attack into the net made it UNC set point and a triple Taylor block from Leath, Borup and Fricano closed out the third set, 25-14.
“Honestly I think the third set, you have nothing to lose,” said Leath. “You want to make every single play. We were really, really focused. I think the first couple sets, we let plays go. We weren’t as dialed in and focused on what was happening on the other side of the court. In the third set, we really dialed in and made those more challenging plays that needed us to be mentally locked in even more so than physically.”
The fourth set was close early, but a dominating 7-0 run served out by Scoles pushed the Tar Heels ahead 19-8, and back-to-back slams by the freshman outside hitter finished off the fourth, 25-15, and evened the match at two sets apiece.
UNC sent its first two attacks of the fifth set out of bounds to fall behind 2-0, but back-to-back kills by Leath gave the Tar Heels a 3-2 lead. Another Leath kill allowed her to step behind the service line and the sophomore pin hitter served the Heels on a 6-0 run to take a 10-4 lead on a big triple block. Georgia Tech replied to score two, but a pair of kills by Scoles made it 12-7. Fellow freshman Taylor Borup slammed one to set up match point, and Scoles finished off the comeback with a massive swing to win the fifth set, 15-8, and secure Carolina’s place at the top of the ACC standings.
“Coach always talks about playing back to back on Friday and Saturday, something we’re going to have to do in the NCAA Tournament,” said Leath. “I think Georgia Tech was really challenging for us today. We had to play yesterday and we scouted, practiced, ate our pre-game meal, and got back out here. After two sets, we learned we had to play again today. I think we really learned from this experience and it’s going to help us in the postseason.”
The Tar Heels’ homestand continues on Wednesday, Nov. 16, with a visit from crosstown rival NC State. The Wolfpack took UNC to five sets in the ACC opener back in late September and has hit its stride in the second half of the conference season. First serve of the midweek matchup is slated for 6 p.m.