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Virginia volleyball starts conference play by losing narrowly to North Carolina and NC State

The Cavaliers brought high-level energy to their conference opening games but ultimately fell short

<p>Virginia fought hard Sunday against North Carolina, but the Cavaliers were unable to secure the victory.</p>

Virginia fought hard Sunday against North Carolina, but the Cavaliers were unable to secure the victory.

The Virginia volleyball team entered into conference play at Memorial Gymnasium this past weekend with a pair of highly competitive matches against NC State on Friday and North Carolina on Sunday. The Cavaliers (8-5, 0-2 ACC) ended ACC volleyball’s opening weekend with a record of 0-2, after bringing both matches to a fifth set.

Virginia opened the weekend with a nail-biter against the Wolfpack (7-6, 1-1 ACC) that ended with a devastating 2-3 loss. 

After starting the match by trailing 1-9 early on and 6-15 in the middle of the set, the Cavaliers came roaring back to win 10 of the next 11 points, ending the set 26-24. Junior outside hitter Grace Turner notched seven of 20 total kills in the first set, hitting 0.333, while freshman defensive specialist Kate Johnson fueled the pivotal comeback with a six-point serving run. 

NC State evened out the score in the following set with an impressive 5 blocks, holding the Cavaliers to nine kills along with eight attack errors. NC State maintained a steady lead to capture the second set 25-17.

The third set saw a shift to a new rotation for the Cavaliers, with graduate setter Gabby Easton as the primary setter. Easton made her Cavalier career debut with 10 assists and two kills in set 3. After overcoming a four-point deficit to make the score 23-22, the Cavaliers were unable to maintain the lead as the Wolfpack shut out Virginia to win the set 25-23. 

After entering the fourth set down 2-1, the Cavaliers jumped to a five-point lead early and refused to let the Wolfpack trail by less than two points the entirety of the set. Turner and Junior libero Madison Morey contributed with aces, while Junior pin hitter Mary Shaffer finished out the set with 3 consecutive kills. The Cavaliers won the fourth set 25-18, bringing an energetic offense into their sixth five-set match of the season.

After beginning the fifth set with a score of 5-5, the Wolfpack scored four consecutive points. After another three-point run by NC State to make the score 6-12, the Cavaliers were unable to respond. The Wolfpack closed out the fifth set with a score of 15-8 to earn their first ACC victory.

Later in the weekend versus the Tar Heels (8-4, 0-1 ACC), the Cavaliers saw a similar outcome.  

The Cavaliers started strong with a two-set lead, finishing the first set 25-22 and the second 25-20. The early sets featured incredible offense from the Cavaliers, earning 13 kills as a team per set.

Turner earned 23 kills off of 46 total attempts for the match, hitting 0.326 overall. Graduate middle blocker Veresia Yon earned six kills out of eight attempts, while sophomore outside hitter Brooklyn Borum demonstrated all-around skill, notching 10 digs and nine kills in total. 

In set three, North Carolina began to demonstrate their own offensive prowess, earning 16 kills as a team in the set. Despite several clutch plays by Turner and Borum, the Cavaliers were unable to maintain a steady serving run, losing the third 25-15.

The fourth set saw a similar pattern as the Cavaliers fell behind early with a nine-point deficit. North Carolina continued to exploit holes in the Virginia defense, racking up another 12 kills and four aces. Virginia, similar to the third set, struggled to maintain the serve, with the Tar Heels ultimately controlling a 25-14 fourth set to tie the match.

The Cavaliers started the fifth set out strong with kills by Shaffer, Borum and Turner, forging a Virginia lead at 4-2. The two teams remained deadlocked for the remainder of the set, with neither gaining more than a two-point lead. After two crucial hitting errors by the Cavaliers, though, North Carolina closed out the set 16-14. 

Despite the losses, the Cavaliers made progress towards solidifying their competitiveness in the ACC, showing excellent grit in the fifth sets. Borum and Turner positioned themselves as steady leaders on the court, earning kills and digs during key points for Virginia. 

The Cavaliers will continue their crusade in the ACC with a home match at Pitt Wednesday and an away match against Duke Sunday. The first game against the Pirates will begin Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.

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