Originally posted on The Net Set  |  Last updated 10/11/13
versus If you've turned on ESPN any time in the last....well, ever.... this is a rivalry you know about. It's typically associated with another sport played indoors on the hardwood, but that is obviously not the case tonight. The two teams enter tonight both riding pretty good seasons. This past week, the Tar Heels cracked the top ten of the AVCA coaches' poll for the first time in school history, entering it at #10. They're one of the last three unbeaten teams in the nation, off to a 15-0 start to 2013. And while I never came out and predicted as much (nor did anyone, most likely), their success doesn't really shock me. I got the chance to see them a few times last season and I was impressed. Pretty much everyone returns from last year's NCAA tournament team, plus a big transfer. The Blue Devils finished a motley ninth in the ACC last year, breaking a seven-year string of NCAA tournament appearances. They'll start a new one this year. They enter tonight with a healthy 13-2 mark for the season, with losses only to national heavyweights Florida and Minnesota. Both teams are 4-0 in the ACC, giving the winner tonight a clear path to seasonal success. Duke started the match with a quick first-ball sideout by Elizabeth Campbell. The Blue Devils added another point on the next rally when the Tar Heel back row had trouble receiving libero Ali McCurdy's serve, leading to a bad pass that drifted into the net, which in turn led to Jordyn Schnabl being whistled for a net fault. It's a butterfly effect sometimes. The Blue Devils extended their lead to three on 4-1 but kills from Jovana Bjelica (the aforementioned big transfer) and 2012 ACC Freshman of the Year Paige Neuenfeldt brought them back within a point. They tied the set again on 5's when the Duke setter Maggie Deichmeister flubbed a bit on a set to the outside for a slide hit, leading to an off-balance and easily dug attack. The Heels got a first ball kill right after. On the next rally, Neuenfeldt hit so hard off McCurdy that the ball just rebounded back over the net for the Heels to play. Then on 6-5, the Tar Heels put up the double block against Jeme Obeime. But the Tar Heels' lead was not to last either, as Neuenfeldt hit into the net to make it 7-all, and then a solo block for Obeime put the Blue Devils back up a point. The Tar Heels got the next true lead on 11-9 with Victoria McPherson putting up the middle block against Obeime, despite a pretty picture-perfect pass from the back row to the setter on the Duke side. Leigh Andrew's block against Campbell a little later made it 13-10 Heels. Duke got a service point on 14-12 when Carolina setter Abby Curry was whistled for a double hit, and then came back even again at 14's with Emily Sklar's soft little tip shot finding the hardwood. They added another serve point on the next rally to bring us to the media timeout at 15-14. Carolina hit long coming back from the timeout, putting Duke up two for the first time in a bit. It went sideout after sideout to Sklar's rotation to the back row. Predictably, Carolina tied the score once again while she was back there, winning a long rally on 18-17 to come level once more. Obeime got the kill and sideout to keep the Tar Heels from taking the lead back, and then Campbell came up with a huge solo block against Andrew to make it 20-18. That prompted the homestanding Tar Heels to take the first charged timeout of the night. The Tar Heels won a long rally coming back from the timeout to claw back within a point, but then Neuenfeldt gave it right back with a serve that flew a good ten feet long. Carolina did well to pass Sasha Karelov's tricky little jump-float serve on the next rally, leading to the kill and sideout. 21-20 was a pretty long rally, too, ending with Sklar powering through the block on the left side, to inch the Blue Devils closer to victory. Sklar found hands again on her wide hit on the 22-20 rally. I figured the Heels would call time there, but they did not. Karelov, surprisingly, tried for a bic as the 23-20 rally wore on, but it did not clear the net. On the 23-21 rally, Campbell hit straight into the Tar Heel block, which then found the antenna. Facing set point at 24-21, Carolina called their second timeout. Campbell missed her serve coming out of the timeout, to give the Tar Heels their sideout. But on 24-22, Kayla Berringer hit into the right-side double block (Sklar and Chelsea Cook) to put Duke up a set to nil. The Tar Heels went to a vastly different rotation to start set two, completely changing matchups. They started off the set with a first ball sideout for McPherson from the middle attack. Two more points followed to give UNC a quick 3-nil lead, but just as quickly, the Blue Devils drew even at 3-all. Duke setter Deichmeister appeared to get away with a lift on the 3-all rally, but the awkward set didn't lead to a hit anyway, so the Tar Heels still got the point. The teams mostly traded points in the early going, but Deichmeister gave away a few for Duke, with a double and a net fault whistled against her. In such a tight match, you've really got to avoid the cheap ones as much as possible. Duke took their first two-point lead of the set at 9-7 with a kill for Obeime, the latest of several, off Berringer and out. Carolina coach Joe Sagula wanted it called off the antenna off the block, but that was not the call. On 9-8, Duke had a bit of a miscommunication on their side, leading to a free ball being sent over. Lauren Adkins took advantage, smashing the ball home to tie the set yet again. Sklar's long hit on 11-10 gave the Tar Heels their two-point lead again at 12-10. A wide hit from Sklar made it 13-10. The subsequent rally was very long, with both sides having chances to end it. The Blue Devils got a crucial double block against Bjelica to get the sideout on 13-11. She hit into the net on the next rally to make it 13-12, and then McPherson's long hit tied us up yet again. She got the point back on the next rally, one of those crazy little 'pinball machine' rallies where the ball just bounces every which way. She redirected the ball over the net with just a soft little touch, and it found the floor. Duke got the sideout to again bring us to a media timeout. Also just like set 1, it was with them ahead 15-14. The Heels played a little campfire defence coming back from the timeout, putting Duke up 16-14. Campbell's big service ace on the next ball put the Devils up three. Duke had a shot to go up four on the 17-14 rally, as both teams had shots to terminate. It was eventually Bjelica who did, bringing Carolina back within two. And as if by script, Neuenfeldt came up with a kill on the middle attack at 17-15 to make it within a point. On the next rally recent sub Taylor Treacy got the kill to bring us to 17-all. Sklar hit long on 17-all, but the up ref overruled the flagger and called a touch. The Blue Devils added two more to again go up by three, and Carolina called time down 20-17. Bjelica gave her team the crucial first ball sideout after the timeout, making it a two-point set. But Sklar's vicious kill from the pipe kept the Blue Devils on top. Duke took what I believe was the first four-point lead of the set at 23-19, with Obeime and Jordan Tucker putting up a perfect double block against a slow-developing UNC hit. The Tar Heels sided out okay, but weren't really able to score on serve. Duke reached set point at 24-20 and put it away on their second reception attempt for a second set final the same as the first, 25-22. Set three started off similarly to the first two. Carolina took an early two-point lead. Duke didn't take long to draw even, at 5-all, but the Heels rattled off three in a row. Of course, three was as big as the lead got. The Blue Devils drew back even again at 8-all, with Tucker and Obeme putting up the left-side double block. That run continued with Obeme splitting the block between Neuenfeldt and McPherson, to put Duke ahead 9-8. Neuenfeldt then got the Heels the sideout to stay even at 9's, before giving the point right back on a service error. On 10-9, Heather Gearhardt came up with a terrific dig to keep the rally going when it looked for all the world like the Blue Devils had terminated. That led to a kill for Andrew, and the home fans roared. From 12-all, back-to-back-to-back attacking errors on the Carolina side gave Duke a three-point lead. That led to the media timeout at 15-12. McPherson got the Heels a sideout from the middle attack to make it 15-13 after the timeout. A service error from the libero Ece Taner kept Duke in the lead by three. The Heels got a service point on 16-13 as Deichmeiester's attempted tip flew long. On the next rally, Obeme appeared to have the sideout, but she was whistled for a net fault on her follow-through, much to her obvious shock. A great dig from McCurdy led to a transition point for Duke on the 16-15 rally, to keep the Blue Devils on top. On 17-15, the quick set to Neuenfeldt on the Carolina side was a little too low in trajectory, leading to the attack drilling the net. A long rally on 18-15 went to Duke with Tucker finding the floor from the middle. UNC called time there down by four. McPherson hit long on the first rally back from the timeout. She and her teammates looked for hands to be called, but got no such luck. She got the sideout on the next rally, but the Heels still trailed by four. At 20-16, Bjelica rotated back to serve and changed her serving form. Earlier in the match, she'd used more of a protoypical jump-serve, but here, she changed it up to more of a jump-float. And it worked. The befuddled Blue Devil back row flubbed her first two serves, both of which led to Tar Heel points. Duke called time -- their first charged timeout of the night -- at 20-18. And it worked. A vicious bic for Sklar led to the sideout at 21-18, and when they added another to go up four again, Carolina called their last timeout. The 22-18 rally ended with a left-side double block for the Blue Devils. And yeah, credit to the home fans for staying energetic, but at 23-18 in the third, it's basically over. It didn't take the Devils long to finish it off. Duke d. #10 North Carolina (25-22, 25-22, 25-19) There were a few bright spots for the Tar Heels, but on the whole this was a rough showing for them. They hit just .093 on the night, at 40/28/129. The Duke front-line came up big tonight, scoring 14 total team blocks to just 5.5 for the Heels. And when the Carolina offence most needed to step up, they faltered the most. They had nearly as many errors in set 3 (12) as Duke did in the entire match (14), hitting negative for the final frame. What strikes me most about Duke's half of the stat sheet is not Sklar's 11 kills or Obeime's 10 (felt like 20), or Campbell and Tucker's 7 blocks apiece, none of that. It's the fact that they only used 8 players all night. I definitely did not pick up on that as I was watching. Women's volleyball at this level is very much a game of specialists, so seeing just about everyone perform as six-rotation players is not a common sight. And with the exception of Cook, who rotated out for the libero McCurdy every time she went back row, they all chipped in on defence, with anywhere from 3 to 11 digs (McCurdy had 14, but I think it makes sense to count her separate). Bjelica led the Heels with 10 kills, but on just .091 efficiency. Adkins hit 9/1/17 for UNC, a solid .471 night at the office. The Heels' two-setter rotation combined for better than 10 assists per set, and Taner dug 18 balls (a good total for a three-set match). There were just too many attack errors. After Adkins' .471, the next-highest efficiency on the night was Andrew at just .143. Berringer hit a horrid 1/5/11, a negative .364. Tomorrow night, the Heels welcome Wake Forest to town, while the Blue Devils have tomorrow off in advance of a Sunday afternoon match with the NC State Wolfpack.
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