The Fleming Gymnasium was busy with the sounds of volleyballs hitting the floor and cheering fans this weekend. UNCG was hosting the annual Spartans-Aggies Invitational—a tournament they won in both 2015 and 2016, back to back.
To start off the tournament, the Spartans took down Presbyterian in a 3-1 match. They got an extra lift from a pair of freshmen, Maria Esch and Holly Behrends, who combined for 24 kills.
“There are some spots that are up for grabs this year,” Coach Corey Carlin said, “And the kids knew that coming in, so to see them embrace those roles and really get after it from last weekend to this weekend [was nice.]
The next game was against our local rival, NC A&T. Charged by electrifying performances from Allison Penner and Ashley Muench, the Spartans took down the neighboring Greensboro team in a 3-1 match.
“Ashley’s been a big part of our program for quite a while, and [I watched her] grow and mature over the last few years, and become—not only a complete volleyball player but someone who has a deep understanding of how she can impact the team and lead this team in her way. She has come a long way since her freshman year.”
The final game was played against the Delaware State Hornets on Saturday night.
The first point of the game went to the Blue & Gold after Allison Penner scored on a service ace, an opening act that set the tone for the rest of the night.
Delaware State put up a fight and were right in the mix of things after just seven points. It was 4-3, Spartans lead. From there, though, things began to slip away. UNCG got six of the next eight points, almost all of them coming from assists by Penner.
A kill from Katie Wagner end the opening set in favor of the Spartans, 25-15.
Wagner picked up where she left off in the second set, as she led UNCG in kills with four, and Penner continued to display her effectiveness as setter with seven assists. The Spartans dominated the set, beating the Hornets 25-9.
By the time the third set came around, the Spartans smelled blood. They got off to a hot 4-0 start and never let go of the lead. While the Hornets did manage to muster up a few points at the end, they found themselves again at the wrong end of a lopsided set, losing 25-10. Coach Carlin had this to say about the victory.
“[We embraced] the mindset of playing clean…limiting unforced errors is really important.”
After sealing the lid on the tournament victory, UNCG was presented the trophy—a golden volleyball that has gotten used to spending time in our trophy case in recent years. It was a satisfying, albeit drama-free tournament win for the Spartans.
However, the season is still in its infancy and there’s a lot of work to be done. Last year, UNCG finished second only to East Tennessee State in the conference standings.
“We’ve known for a few years that we’re talented enough to make a championship run so I think it’s the mental aspect of it” Coach Carlin said. “One of the things we talked about pretty heavily in the preseason was finish. That permeates through practice, drill, matches, can we finish? And be assertive through the end of whatever we are doing.”
It will be awhile before conference play starts, but that doesn’t mean UNCG won’t be put to any tests. On Sept 8, they will be up against Florida and Michigan State, two major conference teams.
“It’s always a challenge when you play such a varying schedule in terms of toughness in opponents. Florida is third in the nation right now and they’re going to present a really unique challenge. They’re big and physical… teams it’s really difficult to replicate that this weekend but we focused on our side of the net.”
Those matchups will be a part of the University of Florida Tournament, on the road in Gainesville, Florida.