GREENVILLE, S.C. – UNCG volleyball couldn’t overcome a slow start as the Spartans dropped a 3-1 (25-14, 25-20, 16-25, 25-15) contest inside Alley Gymnasium to the Furman Paladins. Senior outside hitter Ashley Muench (Hurdle Mills, N.C./Orange) led all competitors with 17 kills as she hit at a .289 clip. The Spartans fall to 9-9 on the season, and 2-4 in the Southern Conference. Furman improves to 12-7 and remain unbeaten in SoCon play at 6-0.

“Today’s match was really a tale of two teams.” Head coach Corey Carlin said, “We came out assertive which was what we wanted, but we pressed a little bit and we had too many unforced errors in the first set. I’m proud of how we responded in sets two and three. We played focused, clean volleyball, which is what you need to do to play at a championship level. Credit Furman, they came out aggressive in the fourth set, on their home court and really challenged us in a couple of areas that took us out of system and kept pressure on our side.”

“Furman is a very well-coached team. Michelle (Young) is a great coach and a veteran in our league, so that’s not a surprise. Our challenge is, can we sustain the level of play that we showed, can we string together three or four championship caliber sets when we need to. We’ll get back to work in practice this week with that mindset, and we’ll get ready for Western Carolina.”

Along with Muench, Annchara Montgomery (Indianapolis, Ind./Illinois State) and Emily Keilen (Austin, Texas/Round Rock) each added eight kills. Despite 10 hitting errors in the first set, the Spartans hit at a .203 average, recording 48 total kills.

Muench led the offense and was solid along the backline, recording a team-best 13 digs. Senior Anna Romaniszyn (Port Orange, Fla./Spruce Creek) went for 11 digs, and Grace Howell (Rockwall, Texas/Rockwall-Heath) added 10.

The Spartans stumbled out of the gate in the first set, recording as many hitting errors as they did kills. Furman opened the set on a 5-0 run with the help of two Spartan attack errors. The Paladins used another 5-0 run to push its lead out to 14-5. UNCG came within six at 14-8, but Furman pulled away to take the set 25-14.

UNCG played more competitive in the second set. The Spartans grabbed their first lead of the match at 10-9, but couldn’t hold on. Furman rallied to tie it up at 12 before taking a lead. The Spartans tied the set up again at 18 and took a 19-18 lead following a Muench kill. Furman rallied to score five-straight points and take the 23-20 lead. Lauren Robeck (Plainfield, Ill./North Plainfield) had a kill to slow the rally, but a Gabby Howard kill and a Jamila Johnson service ace put the set away.

The Spartans came out hot after the intermission, scoring the first four points of the third set. Furman battled back, cutting the lead to one at 7-6 before UNCG used a 9-1 run to extend its lead to 16-7. Back-to-back service aces from Howell helped extend the Spartan lead during the run. Furman called its second timeout following back-to-back kills from Keilen and Montgomery, but UNCG scored three of the next five, with Muench ending the set on her 13th kill of the match.

With the score tied at six in the fourth set, Furman went on a 10-1 run to take a commanding 19-10 lead. UNCG came within eight points, but the Paladins pulled away down the stretch, earning the 25-15 victory.

UNCG returns to the court this Wednesday as it heads to Cullowhee, North Carolina for a midweek SoCon matchup with the Western Carolina Catamounts at 6 p.m.