Syracuse Shows Mid-Season Growing Pains in Four-Set Loss to UNC
CHAPEL HILL, NC – Every team with six freshman can expect growing pains at the beginning of the season. Syracuse (5-11, 2-7 Atlantic Coast) dropped its first four games for the first time since 2016. But recent recoveries from Aliah Bowllan, Abby Casiano and Kendra Lukacs have their mid-season development out of sync with the rest of the group. The biggest syncopation, however, was the devastating injury to outside hitter turned middle blocker Marina Markova. The freshman injured her finger in practice two weeks ago, forcing junior Dana Gardner into the spotlight, the biggest role of her career.
Gardner is still developing though, and her growing pains were decisive in Syracuse’s 3-1 loss to North Carolina (9-10, 6-3 Atlantic Coast).
The Tar Heels had their way with Gardner at the net, slamming nearly 60 kills. SU also committed eight block errors; three of them belonged to Gardner.
One of Gardner’s errors set the table for a 5-0 UNC run in the middle of the first set. That gave the Tar Heels an 18-12 lead. North Carolina thwarted a brief run by Syracuse with two kills by junior Skylar Wine. The outside hitter finished with eight kills. UNC took the first set 25-21.
North Carolina then scored the first four points of the second frame, but Syracuse struck right back with a monster run of their own. Coach Leonid Yelin’s squad scored the next eight. Freshman Berkley Hayes was at the service line during the spurt. Six of the eight points came on attack errors by the Tar Heels though.
Polina Shemanova was instrumental throughout the set. The sophomore racked up five of her 23 kills. She was the only member of the Orange to hit double digit kills. In the end, the effort fell just short as UNC prevailed 25-23 to take a 2-0 lead.
Syracuse forced a fourth set by winning the third 25-21. The Orange were in control until a late 4-0 run by the Tar Heels made it look like another sweep might be handed to SU. Freshman middle blocker Abby Casiano came up clutch and swayed the momentum back to Syracuse with a kill. The Florida native piled up a career high seven kills.
That’s a promising side of Casiano that each Yelin has not seen so far this year. Her dominant right hand has been wrapped up due to a lingering thumb injury from the beginning of the year.
North Carolina finished the job in the fourth set 25-17. UNC got a big 16 kill performance from sophomore Lauren Harrison, and 10 kills from junior Aristea Tontai.
Syracuse is back at it again on Sunday when they visit North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC.
Brad Klein | @BradKlein15