The UNCG Volleyball team began play for its 50th season this season with a three-game weekend homestand in the Spartan-Deacon Classic. After ending last season with a lot of positive momentum, the Spartans are looking to carrying that forward into the season, and to perform at an elite level for their half-century celebration.
In Friday’s contest, UNCG was matched up against in-state rival NCCU, and the Eagles were simply no match for the Spartans. UNCG pounced on their opponents out of the gates, winning the first set in dominant fashion and then repeating the very same mark in the second set to take the two-set lead. The third set was tightly contested back and forth battle, but the Spartans were not able to close it out and NCCU forced more action. In the fourth set, UNCG put forth its most dominant showing yet and blitzed by the Eagles to secure the victory (25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 25-15).
Maria Esch led the way offensively for the Spartans with 14 kills, while Holly Behrends anchored the defense with 13 digs. The season opening victory is the third in a row for the Spartans. The win also gave the Spartans their tenth consecutive victory over NCCU, cementing their dominance over their rivals.
UNCG did not have long to soak in their victory, as the Spartans were back in action the next morning against Presbyterian. There were no signs of rust, as UNCG put on an absolute clinic against the Blue Hose, avoiding the mid-game letdown they had experienced the previous night. Holly Behrends kill ended Presbyterian’s morning maladies, as the Spartans cruised to the straight set victory to improve to 2-0 on the young season (25-20, 25-22, 25-22).
Holly Behrends continued to make a tremendous two-way impact in this contest, as she posted a team-high 13 kills. Hannah Knier also sparked a fair amount of the offense with 12 kills of her own. Maria Esch is making a two-way impact as well, as she tied with Gabriela McHugh for a team-leading 13 digs. Mandy Garvens and Grace Howell joined with big defensive moves, with ten digs apiece.
Later that evening, UNCG filed back into Fleming Gymnasium for the final contest of the tournament against fellow headliner Wake Forest. The strain of playing three contests in twenty-four hours after a long off-season may have gotten to Spartans, as the Deacons had their way with this game winning in straight sets knocking the Spartans to 2-1 on the season. (20-25, 19-25, 21-25).
The first set was competitive as UNCG trailed 19-20 before allowing Wake Forest to go on a 5-1 run. The Spartans also held a 16-14 lead in the second set before allowing the Deacons to go on another run. Maria Esch led the offensive charge yet again with ten kills and Grace Howell was a defensive ace with a team-leading 19 digs.
A 2-1 start to the season should give UNCG the positive momentum it is looking for to enter conference play with confidence. The Spartans looked dominant in both of their victories, and had the chance to win multiple sets against an ACC team on very short rest. Holly Behrends and Maria Esch were both named to the All-Tournament Team and both look like All-SoCon candidates.
UNCG will be back in action next weekend as they travel to Arlington, Texas to play in the Maverick Classic. The weekend tripleheader will give fans a chance to see how well this team can perform on the road. This is crucial, as the Spartans posted a disappointing 4-12 outside of Fleming Gymnasium last year.
The next game is against Southern University at 5pm Friday.