Updated Sun, Sep 8, 2013 11:22 am
No. 24 North Carolina came out of the intermission a rejuvenated team Friday night, outlasting a shorthanded Ohio team in five sets, 23-25, 16-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-8.
The Bobcats also lost to UNC in five a season ago in Chapel Hill.
“I would call any loss a 10,” Ohio coach Ryan Theis answered when asked to rate his frustration on a scale of one to 10. “The frustrating part about losing in five in this environment to me would be having to turn around and play tomorrow at 3.
“We can learn a lot from five games,” Theis continued. “We can learn why we were able to win in two. We can learn what happened in the three that we lost, so it’s definitely a learning experience. I’ll take a five-gamer over a three any day of the week just to learn more from it.”
The Bobcats (4-1) faded after winning the first two games Friday night. Both teams were playing their second match of the day, but Ohio had a slightly shorter turnaround, having wrapped up its match with Cincinnati five hours before first serve against UNC (5-0).
“I do think it takes a toll,” Theis said. “Momentum is kind of tricky when it comes to fatigue. When they do steal the momentum we become mentally fatigued, potentially more physically. All that stuff plays a factor but at the end I think it was a little bit more about execution than fatigue.”
Ohio battled through essentially the entire match without Preseason All-MAC outside hitter Chelsea Bilger. The junior tweaked her knee on the ninth point of the first set after landing awkwardly on an attack from the left side. She did not return.
Bilger will see a doctor Saturday to determine the extent of her injury.
“I think she might be out a while, so we’ll see,” Theis offered.
Down two-sets-to-none, North Carolina grabbed an early lead in the third set and remained in control, though Ohio kept the score close for the first half of the game. With a slight 12-10 lead, North Carolina kicked it up a notch to stay in the match. The Heels won nine of the next 12 points and took a commanding 23-13 lead.
A four-point Ohio rally prolonged the inevitable, as UNC dominated the back half of the set to win it convincingly, becoming the first team to take a set from Ohio on the season.
The Tar Heels never trailed after the second set.
North Carolina also led for the entirety of the fourth game and stole a lightning-fast 6-0 lead in the decisive fifth set before Ohio could muster a point. A few short rallies like the one to end the third set got the crowd involved briefly in the second half of the match, but UNC quickly stole back the momentum each time.
“(We were) trying to play catch-up, and they jumped on top of us a little bit,” said setter Abby Gilleland after the defeat.
Gilleland also admitted that playing without Bilger on the floor was a challenge for the Bobcats.
“In the back of your mind, you don’t want to let it get to you or think about it too much, and you want to keep going,” she said. “But knowing she’s not out there makes it difficult.”
Ohio looked as good without Bilger early on as it has all season, gutting out a very close first set and breezing through the second.
The Tarheels appeared to be in position to steal the first game after a kill by Kayla Berringer gave them a 22-20 lead, at which point Theis called his second timeout of the set. The two teams split the next two points, but a kill by Karin Bull ignited a 4-0 run to end the game in Ohio’s favor. Freshman outside hitter Mallory Salis, who was in for Bilger on the left side, combined with graduate middle blocker Alexis Pinson for two block assists in the final three points to close out the set.
The second set also played back-and-forth, until a Katie Horton kill sparked a run in the middle of the set. Ohio won the next five points, with the help of two errors by North Carolina setter Abigail Curry, to take an 18-10 lead in the frame. The lead grew to 23-13 before a UNC kill in between two Ohio errors brought the Tar Heels to within seven and prompted another Ohio timeout. The Bobcats won the next two points after the stoppage on a Lamberti kill and an ace by Pinson.
Ohio headed into the locker room with a two-set advantage, riding a 14-game win streak to start the season.
But Carolina proved to be the better team.
Without Bilger, Ohio relied heavily on its middle blockers for offense. Pinson and Bull combined for 24 kills on 47 attacks. Bull set a new career high in kills with 11 in the five-setter. But after the intermission, North Carolina started to take the middle blockers out of the game, and Ohio struggled to win points.
“They made it impossible to kill the ball,” Theis said. “We were bunched in tight, and that was working early. Then we had to mix it up.
“We tried to make adjustments. Sadly, without Chelsea (Bilger) out on the pin, that makes it a little harder for us to score points.”
The Tar Heels also hit much better as a team in in the final three games, outdoing Ohio in the kills department, 41-29 and cutting back on the errors that plagued them through the first two sets.
“You don’t want to go five games with a competitive team and lose with home court,” Gilleland said. “We’ll try and (recuperate) before tomorrow and not let it get to us.”
Ohio closes the Baymont Inn Invitational Saturday against Dayton (3-2) at 3 p.m.