BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After falling in the first two sets to the Samford Bulldogs Friday night, UNCG volleyball forced its third-straight five-set match. The Spartans walked out of the Pete Hanna Center with a 3-2 (21-25, 25-27, 25-15, 25-21, 15-11) win to improve to 13-10 and 6-5 in the Southern Conference. With the loss, Samford falls to 10-15 and 5-6 in the SoCon.
“Tonight was a true gut check for our team.” Head coach Corey Carlin said, “We didn’t come out ready to play. We dug ourselves a big hole early and Samford capitalized. Once we decided to have better fight and focused on playing good volleyball, we were able to get the momentum back on our side. That’s what this team is capable of. Our attention now heading into tomorrow’s match against Mercer has to be coming out ready to play from the first point and sustaining positive plays throughout the match.”
Three Spartans tallied double-digit kills in the match, led by senior outside hitter Ashley Muench (Hurdle Mills, N.C./Orange). Muench recorded 13 kills on 29 attacks, with freshman Holly Behrends (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) adding 12, and middle hitter Annchara Montgomery (Indianapolis, Ind./Illinois State) adding 11. Freshman Maria Esch (Williamsburg, Va./Jamestown) came in during the final three sets to add six kills on 16 total attacks.
Allison Penner (Aurora, Neb./Aurora) dished out 52 assists in the contest and tallied four kills of her own. The junior chipped in on the defensive end with seven digs and added four block assists. Montgomery and Behrends gave the Bulldogs all they could handle at the net, totaling seven and six blocks, respectively. The Spartans’ front line recorded 14.0 blocks in the match.
The Spartan backcourt totaled 59 digs in the match, led by senior Anna Romaniszyn (Port Orange, Fla./Spruce Creek). Romaniszyn took over the role of libero in the final three sets and totaled a team-high 17 digs in the match. Christina Gregory (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart Academy) and Muench each added 10 digs.
The Bulldogs got out of the gate fast as they used a 7-1 run to take a 13-3 lead early in the first set. UNCG used a 5-0 run to cut the lead down to five at 15-10 before Samford extended its lead back to seven following a Kelsi Hobbs kill. UNCG used a 5-1 run to cut the lead down to 23-20 following a block assist from Mikaela Weidmann (Roswell, Ga./Centennial) and Behrends. After the teams exchanged kills, Samford took the set following a kill from Krista Boesing.
Set two was played much closer with neither team leading by more than three points. Samford forced the set’s first set point following a kill from Boesing. Annchara Montgomery (Indianapolis, Ind./Illinois State) forced a Spartan set point following a kill and a block assist with Muench before a UNCG ball handling error and back-to-back kills from Kendal Strand gave the Bulldogs the 27-25 win.
The Spartans came out hot in the third set, taking an early 8-2 lead after going on a 5-0 run. After the Bulldogs used three-straight kills from Hobbs cut the lead down to 11-10, the Spartans scored 10 of the next 12 points to take the lead at 21-21. The teams traded points before a Esch closed the set out with her second kill at set point.
Samford led by one early in the fourth set before UNCG was able to gain a lead. The Spartans took the lead at 5-4 and went on a 5-2 run to take the lead 10-6. The Blue and Gold later used a 4-0 run to take its biggest lead of the set at 20-13 following a Montgomery and Penner block and a Bulldog attack error. Samford cut the lead down to four at 22-18 after another Hobbs kill. The teams exchanged points before another Esch kill at set point put the set away and forced set number five.
Neither team led by more than two points until late in the final set. After the Spartans scored back-to-back points to take an 11-9 lead and force a Bulldog timeout, the Bulldogs scored back-to-back points to force a Spartan timeout with the set tied at 11. Coming out of the Spartans’ timeout, UNCG scored three-straight to force match point before Samford called its final timeout. The stoppage in play didn’t slow the Spartan momentum as UNCG scored the game winner on a Boesing attack error.
UNCG is back in action tomorrow afternoon as it takes on the Mercer Bears at 3 p.m. in Macon, Georgia streaming live on ESPN3.