CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Duke led early but could not hold off No. 6 North Carolina in the end, falling 3-1 (25-22, 17-25, 13-25, 20-25) to the Tar Heels Wednesday afternoon in Carmichael Arena. With the victory, UNC clinched the 2016 ACC Championship.
Duke (21-8, 15-4 ACC) hit .312 in the opening frame, but North Carolina (26-3, 18-1 ACC) limited the Blue Devils to a .106 hitting percentage the final three sets. The Tar Heel block put up 14.0 stops to the Blue Devils’ 5.0, which helped the UNC back row post an 82-75 advantage in digs.
“We just didn’t sustain it like we needed to against a good team like this,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “We had some really good things going for us. Their blocking had a strong impact. If we could’ve minimized those errors just a little bit and controlled that ball a little bit better, maybe we could’ve picked at that block a little bit more and it would’ve been a different outcome.”
Senior middle blocker Jordan Tucker once again led the Blue Devil offense, totaling 17 kills while hitting .333. Wednesday’s match marked the Prairie Village, Kan., native’s sixth straight with double-digit kills and 23rd overall on the year.
“[Jordan]’s just been a senior leader and a rock this year,” Nagel added. “She did it today. She’s willing to put herself on the line and be the one who has to get the job done. If we can get her in the mix, she can do a great job.”
Senior libero Sasha Karelov picked up 28 digs to anchor the defense and surpass 2,000 digs for her career. The third player in Duke history with 2,000 career digs, Karelov totaled 20-plus digs for the 15th time this season and third straight match.
“She’s definitely very deserving,” Nagel said. “She’s worked very hard. She came up with some big digs for us today, so I’m really excited for her to have that accomplishment.”
Tucker put down six kills in Duke’s 25-22 first set while the defense amassed 25 digs, led by Karelov’s nine. The two in-state rivals traded points for most of the stanza, resulting in 11 ties. Duke eked ahead, 20-17, following back-to-back kills from Leah Meyer and Samantha Amos. UNC responded with a pair of points before Tucker knocked down a kill. Another Tucker kill and a Tar Heel service error then sealed the set.
North Carolina regrouped to post a .394 hitting percentage in the second, winning it 25-17 behind seven Taylor Leath kills. The two teams traded blows in the early going prior to an 8-1 UNC run to close the frame. The Tar Heels received five kills over their final eight points, including three from Taylor Treacy.
“We started out really well and executed really well,” Nagel said. “But then in set two, we didn’t handle the ball as well as we would like. [North Carolina] was able to build some momentum and get started. Against a good team, you can’t give them that opportunity.”
Duke committed 11 errors and hit -.077 in a 25-13 third set. UNC put up 5.0 of its 14.0 blocks in the frame to take the 2-1 overall advantage.
The Blue Devils trailed by as many as six in the fourth before making a late run that came up just short. Duke trimmed the deficit to two, 19-17, but North Carolina finished the match with a 5-2 spurt to clinch the 2016 ACC title.
Blue Devils Cadie Bates (12) and Meyer joined Tucker in double-digit kills, while freshman setter Cindy Marina tossed up 43 assists. Karelov was one of four Duke players with 10-plus kills, along with defensive specialists Chloe DiPasquale (13), Kelli Kalinoski (12) and Nicole Elattrache (11).
Leath ended the match with 17 kills, 17 digs and a .372 hitting percentage to power the Tar Heels. Julia Scoles added 10 kills and libero Sheila Doyla notched a match-high 31 digs.
Duke wraps up the regular season at 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 26 at NC State.