GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG volleyball faced off with the ETSU Buccaneers Friday night in Fleming Gymnasium to open up the 2017 homecoming events. The Spartans played tough but fell in five sets (25-19, 23-25, 25-16, 18-25, 18-16) to the preseason SoCon favorites. UNCG’s defense set a season best with 96 digs in the match. Libero Christina Gregory (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart Academy) led the defense with 33, while senior Anna Romaniszyn (Port Orange, Fla./Spruce Creek) tied a career best with 20 digs.

With the loss, the Spartans fall to 11-10 overall and 4-4 in the Southern Conference. ETSU improves to 11-9 and 7-2 in SoCon play.

“Tonight was a real battle.” Head coach Corey Carlin said, “We knew ETSU was going to come in with a lot of grit and fight. I felt like there were several ups and downs throughout the match. We showed tremendous grit to fight back in the second set, and winning the fourth after a disappointing start in the third. I thought we fought well tonight. We had opportunities, we forced a match point, but credit ETSU. They came up with a few more plays when they needed to. They’re a well-coached team and there’s a reason they’re in second place in the conference.”

“We know how close we are to that top level of the conference.” Carlin continued, “Three of our league losses have been in five sets where we’ve had some leads. We’re going to refocus for Chattanooga coming in tomorrow, and mentally reset. We’ll come back and focus on finishing those leads and finishing those matches when we need to.”

Three Spartans earned double-digit kills in the match. Ashley Muench (Hurdle Mills, N.C./Orange) paced the offense with 14. Freshman Holly Behrends (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) added 13, with sophomore middle hitter Mikaela Weidmann (Roswell, Ga./Centennial) adding a career-best 12 kills.

Four Spartans tallied double-digit digs, led by Gregory and Romaniszyn. Muench and Allison Penner (Aurora, Neb./Aurora) each added 13 digs and earned their tenth double-double on the season. Penner recorded 43 assists and four kills.

The first set was played tight, as there were 14 ties and four lead changes. After being tied at 14 all, ETSU scored five-straight points, benefitting from three Spartan attack errors in the run. After a Spartan timeout, UNCG cut the lead back down to four but could come no closer the rest of the set.

The Spartans battled in set two, coming back from five points down to take the set. Trailing 19-14, UNCG used a 7-1 run and took the lead at 21-20 following a block assist from Weidmann and Penner. The teams exchanged points before the Spartans capitalized on an ETSU attack error to force set point. Muench tied the match up at 1-1 on her fifth kill of the set, with Penner on the assist.

Coming out of the intermission, the third set was all ETSU as the Bucs led wire-to-wire. ETSU doubled up the Spartans’ points, taking a 20-11 lead. The Spartans got a couple kills from Behrends and Muench in the final rallies, but could come no closer than eight points over the final ten rallies.

A late run led to UNCG taking the fourth set. After being tied at 18 all, the Spartans closed the set out on their biggest run of the night, scoring seven-straight points to take the set 25-18. Weidmann, Muench and Behrends all added kills in the run as the Spartan defense thwarted several ETSU attacks.

The final set featured almost as many ties and lead changes as the four other sets combined. UNCG and ETSU were tied ten times with seven lead changes in the deciding set. UNCG had its largest lead of the set of three points twice, but ETSU timeouts halted the Spartan runs. At match point, ETSU floated a free ball to UNCG where the Spartans hammered an attack that landed out of bounds to tie the match at 14. UNCG forced another match point at 16-15, but ETSU responded by scoring three-straight on kills from Braedyn Tutton and Rylee Millhon to take the match.

UNCG is back in action tomorrow night as it hosts the Chattanooga Mocs at 5 p.m. inside Fleming Gymnasium on Homecoming weekend.