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Duke volleyball falls to North Carolina in five-set battle

<p>Payton Schwantz led the Blue Devils in kills against North Carolina with 18.</p>

Payton Schwantz led the Blue Devils in kills against North Carolina with 18.

After emerging victorious in their last matchup against the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils could not get the job done with the rivalry shifted to Durham.

Duke faltered in the fifth set Saturday afternoon against North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils struggled to come up with an offensive spark in the fourth set and fell 15-12 in the fifth to drop the match, closing the final line to be 3-2 (22-25, 26-24, 20-25, 25-21, 15-12). 

“We’re really disappointed of the outcome, obviously,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “I think we worked hard out there and we just weren’t able to get a lot going for ourselves offensively today even though we were able to do more so toward the end of the match.”

Duke (14-11, 8-8 in the ACC) snatched a 25-22 victory in the first set after a tough battle against the Tar Heels (8-18, 4-13 in the ACC). Freshman Ade Owokoniran led a strong offensive sequence to put the Blue Devils up 17-12. North Carolina rallied back with a 5-0 run, tying the set at 17-all. Coming out of the media timeout, Duke went on a 3-0 run, which would prove the be the difference as Leah Meyer’s kill finished off the first set for the Blue Devils. 

After a late surge of momentum, the Tar Heels stole the second set. Duke led 23-21 and a kill by Leah Meyer forced match point. However, North Carolina fought off four straight set points and took the frame 26-24. 

“We let them back in set two when we really were doing pretty well there and we needed to keep our intensity and focus on trying to finish that set,” Nagel explained. “By allowing them to get that, it gave them a chance and that carried through as we went to the end of the match.” 

Duke battled back in the third set. Leah Meyer’s confident kill just before a media timeout put the Blue Devils up 15-12. Meyer finished the day with a phenomenal performance that included 14 kills and no errors. North Carolina rallied back, but a 6-0 Duke run established the set point 24-20. Andie Shelton slammed home a kill so the Blue Devils took the third 25-20.  

However, North Carolina flipped the script in the fourth set. A 3-0 Tar Heel run tied the set 16-16. As the volume escalated in Cameron, the Tobacco road rivals traded points to 21-21. The Tar Heels took two more points to go up 23-21 and eventually forced a fifth set 25-21. 

“A couple of their hitters were being really successful so we definitely wanted to serve as tough as we could so we could hopefully keep them out of the system a little bit,” Nagel said of her team’s strategy. “We wanted to adjust our block a little bit to try to slow them down and at times we did it but we just needed to keep the execution. We were kind of in an out of it today and I think we just needed to be able to sustain that longer to finish some of these sets.”

Lily Cooper opened the fifth set with a powerful kill, but the energy level exponentially increased for both teams. The Tar Heels went on to lead 12-9. Duke battled back to tie it up at 12-12, but North Carolina would not let up and put two more points on the board, finishing off the heartbreaking loss for the Blue Devils 15-12. 

“They’re obviously very disappointed,” Nagel said of her team. “We’ve got to try to absorb it, learn from it, and get right back at it because we have a big match on Wednesday against Notre Dame.” 

Duke will look to claim a much-needed victory Wednesday at 2 p.m. as they host the Fighting Irish in Cameron. 

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