Double your pleasure, double your fun, as this is the first of two televised matches this evening. The ACC’s not exactly a stronghold for college volleyball (they, no doubt, are a basketball conference, and also something of a powerhouse in soccer), but we’ll take what we can get. And to kick off the evening tonight, that’s the Tigers and the Tar Heels.
Clemson enters with a 10-4 record, and a 1-2 mark in ACC play, having beaten Boston College but losing to Maryland and Georgia Tech. Nobody they’ve beaten is really that impressive, except perhaps the Slovenian national team in an exhibition match. That’s pretty cool. Their top scorer is junior outside hitter Moneshia ‘Mo’ Simmons, averaging almost 4 kills per set. Their most efficient hitter is Sandra Adeleye, one of three seniors on the roster. Simmons is also a good two-way player, being third on the team in digs.
North Carolina is probably the better team. They’ve been getting a smattering of poll votes this season, and they were an NCAA tournament team last year whereas Clemson was not. The Tar Heels are 11-2 and 2-1 in the ACC, coming off what I’m sure was an immensely satisfying five-set win against archrivals Duke. The Tar Heels have no one major scoring threat, as outside hitters Chaniel Nelson (sophomore), Emily McGee (senior), and Kayla Berringer (junior) all have comparable scoring statistics. The Heels have four seniors on their squad, including setter Cora Harms. An experienced setter is always a plus.
One interesting quirk of the two teams’ rosters is that they both have a player from the nation of Turkey. For the Tar Heels, it’s their regular libero Ece Taner, and for Clemson, it’s senior outside hitter Serenat Yaz. I wonder if they talked a little Turkish smack before the match ;\
The point of the match might have been the very first rally of the first set. Back and forth it went, finally ending with a Tiger hitting error. The Tar Heels easily took control as the first set went on. The first set featured a lot of very long rallies with good defense on both sides of the net, but the point inevitably went UNC’s way. It looked like Clemson was scrambling to keep up, whereas UNC was in perfect control. Setter Harms was also a big part of the successful first set for the Heels, scoring both with quick overhand dinks on front-row rotations that the Tigers seemed helpless to stop, as well as quick sets to her middles. Another big scoring presence was freshman Paige Neuenfeldt, who did a lot more swinging in this match than she had in past weeks. UNC took the first three-point lead at 6-3 and never looked back, running the score up to 11-5 to force Clemson to take their first timeout. And it got no better for the Tigers as the set wore on. If they got one point, the Heels got two. Their second timeout came on 16-8 after another one of those quick sets from Harms. The Tar Heels were just better in all facets of the match in the first set, eventually finishing off a 25-14 drubbing with a kill from Neunfeldt. She, McGee, and Tia Gaffen had four kills apiece in the first set.
Clemson made some good adjustments between sets, though. Their setter Hannah Brenner now began running the quick-set offense, and it worked just as well for Clemson as it did for UNC for a while. The Tigers jumped out to a surprising quick 6-2 lead in the second set, with some errors on the Tar Heel side of the net certainly helping out. The Heels took three straight coming back from timeout, including a gift on 6-3 on a serve that was pretty clearly out but was touched by freshman libero Lou Davis (it’s short for Alyssa…don’t ask me) for an ace. Brenner broke up the min-run with a dink to take it to 7-5, and it’s interesting to note that however effective that move always is, it’s doubly so for left-handed setters. They’re directing the ball with their primary hand, whereas righties can’t be so sure-handed. There were quite a few lefties in this match, actually. Love those lefties :)
Clemson extended their advantage to 10-6 before UNC was able to side out again, but from there the Tar Heels drew even again at 12, after another long rally on 12-11. What was a veritable walkover in the first set became a tight, competitive, entertaining match in the second. The teams traded points from there until Clemson finally went up two again at 19-17, after a rare hitting error from McGee (who played an outstanding match, taking to the skies like an airplane). But again North Carolina closed, knotting the set up at 20 after forcing Clemson to call time at 20-19. Harms again proved to be a good scorer, getting a service ace and a kill to tie the set once again at 22, prompting the Tigers’ second timeout. Adeleye got the Tigers to set point at 24-23, and they didn’t spoil it. Brenner won a joust against the Tar Heels’ Berringer to end it 25-23 and send the two teams to the locker room tied at a set apiece.
Through two sets, the big stars were McGee for UNC, hitting .538 with 9 kills, and Adeleye for Clemson, hitting .353 with 8 kills. Simmons was comparatively under-whelming, notching just 4 kills on a paltry .045 hitting percentage. The numbers bore out Clemson’s defensive adjustments as well, as UNC hit a whopping .417 in the first set but a mere .119 in the second.
The third set was every bit as tight and competitive as the second was. As it wore on, you got the feeling that whoever was going to win this set would probably win the match. The teams traded points, tying at 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7, before North Carolina then ran off three in a row thanks in large measure to Tiger hitting errors, prompting their first timeout. The Tigers seemed to be trying to serve the sweet-swinging McGee early in the third set, to get her out of system, but it didn’t really work. But the timeout sure seemed to staunch UNC’s momentum, as they coughed up two of that three-point cushion on unforced errors, with the Tigers’ Yaz also gaining a kill, to draw even again at 10. North Carolina responded with a mini-run of their own to go back up by two at 13-11, then three to 15-12 after Berringer just gobbled up an overpass. It stayed steady there for a while, with Clemson calling time again at 17-14.
Again the timeout seemed to come at just the right moment. On the serve of defense specialist Natalie Patzin, Clemson took five straight (after first siding out to gain serve) to go up 20-17. It looked like we were on the verge of a minor upset. But the setter Harms came up big again to stop the run, sending it over on two this time with a two-handed dink, to draw the Heels to within two at 20-18. Clemson got it 23-20 and thought that Brenner had gotten a service ace to get them four set points, but it was ruled out to give UNC the serve at 23-21. That was a big moment. Simmons was deep and long on the next attack, but Clemson got to set point after all with a double hit called on Nelson (what was she doing setting?).
North Carolina called time at 24-22, facing two Tiger set points. And boy did Emily McGee stare them down. She staved off the first with a kill, then her Heels ran off three straight on her serve to take the set themselves 26-24 — a great solo block from Neunfeldt, an ace that Clemson just kind of abandoned, and then a double block from Neuenfeldt and Berringer. Big, big momentum shift. It looked like Clemson was going to be very much in line to take the match, but they wound up back on their heels.
And for the majority of the fourth set, they played like a team defeated. Despite the Tigers taking the first two points, the Tar Heels ran out to an early 7-4 lead. Clemson did tie it at 7 coming out of their timeout on 7-4, but Harms again came up big to put the Heels back on top, and they were never again seriously threatened. From 8-7, they ran off eight of the next nine points to go up 16-8. Even a strategically-placed Clemson timeout did little to staunch this impressive Tar Heel run. The big hitting stars were Neuenfeldt and McGee, but they were also aided by some slipshod offense on the Clemson side of the net. From 16-8, the score stabilized a bit, and Clemson made a run from 21-13 to get as close as 23-19 (on the strength of Adeleye and Alexa Rand), but two from Neuenfeldt on the quick set from Harms ended the fourth set at 25-20.
North Carolina d. Clemson (25-14, 23-25, 26-24, 25-20)
Overall, this was a much more entertaining match than I was expecting. The Tar Heels looked to have the Tigers badly overmatched in the first set, but the Tigers made some great adjustments as the match went on and it was anybody’s match from there. Either side could have won either of the middle two sets. And then Clemson and UNC both had their runs in the fourth set; the Heels’ was just first, and longer.
Clemson hit just .155 for the match. Adeleye had a fine match, with 16 kills and 5 errors on 33 total swings for a .333 hitting percentage, but aside from Bremmer’s setter dinks and the single swing taken by Karis Watson, no one else was above .200. Tough to win when you’ve only got one consistent scoring threat. It’s a hugely disappointing match for Simmons, who hit a grotesque .026 (8/7/38). Credit to the Tigers for making adjustments after getting womanhandled in the first set to make the second and third more competitive, but they seemed to lose that fire until the tailend of the fourth.
The Tar Heels shared the love statistically, as they usually do. McGee led the way with 15 kills and a nice .321 hitting clip, though Berringer was even more efficient at 13/2/32, for a .344 hitting percentage. Neuenfeldt also checked in with double-digit kills, 10, though 6 errors gave her just a .200 hitting percentage. Surprisingly, Clemson out-blocked UNC in this match 9 to 5, but UNC’s blocks surely were timely. Harms and McGee both had double-doubles, with Harms leading the Heels in digs with 22 to go with her 44 assists. McGee’s 19 digs went well with her 15 kills, showing her versatility.
Clemson falls to 10-5, and 1-3 in the ACC. North Carolina improves to 12-2, and 3-1 in conferences. Next up for Clemson is a tough contest with the NC State Wolfpack this Saturday, in Raleigh. The Tar Heels next play host to ACC leaders Georgia Tech, and that match is on Sunday night.