Michigan volleyball falls to North Carolina in a back-and-forth, five-set matchGrace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Michigan volleyball team (4-2 overall) finished out its first weekend of home games since the onset of COVID-19 with a hard-fought loss against undefeated North Carolina (8-0) on Sunday. The teams seemed closely matched, alternating set wins until the Tar Heels took the ultimate fifth set.

The Wolverines claimed an early lead in the first set and held it throughout the set. After a service error by North Carolina gave Michigan the first point, the Wolverines did not let up that lead for the rest of the set. Michigan’s largest lead came at the end of the set, when it went up 24-10. Shortly afterward, the Wolverines completed the 25-12 first-set win. 

Sophomore outside hitter Jess Mruzik led the team with three first-set kills, picking up where she left off after notching a career-high 31 kills against Duke on Friday. Mruzik finished the game against the Tar Heels with 16 kills. Senior outside hitter Paige Jones led the Wolverines Sunday with 17 kills. Junior opposite hitter May Pertofsky and freshman middle blocker Jacque Boney also contributed with 12 and seven kills, respectively.

“We feel like we really have four great scorers and great terminators,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “For us, it’s really important because not everybody’s always going to be on. There’s a human factor in sports that often gets missed and sometimes these guys aren’t going to play the same every single day, or a team might come out and really focus on one player and take them out of what they want to do. We want to be able to go right to somebody else.”

Despite Michigan’s dominant start in the first set of the match, North Carolina countered it quickly, winning the second set, 25-21. Mruzik started the set with a service error that set the tone for its remainder. After being down 0-1, the Wolverines never gained the lead. 

The Tar Heels and Wolverines fought back and forth to start the third set. After the two teams kept the score tied at 13-13, Michigan pulled away, going on a 5-point run. The Wolverines continued to dominate throughout the set, extending its lead to a maximum of seven points at 22-15. Boney helped to clinch the set with a kill, finishing the score at 25-19. 

The fourth set started with more back and forth action, the score tied at 8-8 after a kill by Jones. Michigan had the lead for the rest of the set until the last few points, as North Carolina refused to accept defeat. 

With the Wolverines up 23-20, the Tar Heels’ server, libero Karenna Wurl, aced her serve, shifting the momentum to favor UNC. North Carolina won the next rally point with a kill by outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster, leading the team on a five-point streak to close out the set at 25-23. The run allowed North Carolina to tie the match two sets to two. 

“It’s so frustrating to have that slip away, but it wasn’t like we played badly or we made a bunch of errors,” Rosen said. “They were playing really well, and so I certainly have to give them credit. I just know our offense got a little out of tempo … and we just lost our rhythm a little bit.” 

The Tar Heels used the momentum they had secured from their fourth-set comeback to stay ahead throughout the entire fifth set, clinching a quick 15-9 win. 

“It start(ed) to break down a little bit,” Rosen said. “And all of a sudden, that flips in a hurry and that’s what we experienced today.”