GREENSBORO, N.C. – Heading in to his second season as head coach of the UNCG volleyball team, Patrick Nicholas is sleeping more easily during fall camp than he was last season.
Nicholas was introduced as the head coach of the Spartans last season on July 30, just 10 days before the first day of practice and less than a month before the first match. He was forced to hit the ground running as he had a laundry list of things to do.
His first goal was moving from West Virginia, where he had been an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Marshall the previous two seasons. He also had to juggle putting together a coaching staff at the last minute, as well as meeting and developing a bond with his new players and implementing a new system.
He inherited a program that had been to the Southern Conference final two of the three previous seasons, but had just lost one of the greatest middle blockers in school history in Kaitlyn Nortz and first-team All-SoCon selection Branagan Fuller, who decided to transfer to North Carolina.
Nicholas was forced to run fall camp without an assistant coach as current assistant Laura Tomes was hired just one day before the team's opening match against Liberty at the Hokie Invitational.
Coach Patrick Nicholas talks about the first week of practice.
The coaches and student-athletes were forced to gel together as the season progressed. The coaches had to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each player, while the players were forced to learn a new system that took a little time to get used to.
The team stumbled slightly out of the gate as it had a 6-9 record after the first month and a half, but the team began to come together as the season progressed and the Spartans went 11-5 over their final 16 matches. UNCG came up just one match short of making the conference tournament last season as the league only took four teams to the conference championship.
Nicholas and the Spartans have their goals set high this season as they are looking to not only make it back to the conference championship, but to make another deep run in the tournament and possibly an NCAA tournament bid. The team has five seniors this season that will be the backbone to help lead a young team that includes seven newcomers.
UNCG lost four players from the 2009 team, including Catherine Hanners, who was the SoCon Libero of the Year. Nicholas hopes that the team can use its depth to help plug some of the holes left by those players who departed.
One of the five seniors, outside hitter Caley Redden, will help lead the Spartans this season as she led UNCG last year with 2.64 kills per set. This season, UNCG will also look to fellow senior Kayren Finney as one of the anchors of the front line. She was a first-team All-SoCon selection as a sophomore, but was hampered by injuries last season as she only played in 13 matches.
This year's team will have to rely on some of those seven newcomers as well this season. Junior college transfer Sarah Eldridge was expected to see significant playing time as a setter, but she injured her leg in the first practice of the season and will miss 6-8 weeks. The Spartans will possibly look toward freshman Kellie Orewiler to fill the libero spot vacated by Hanners, as well.
If the senior-laden team can attain its goals, Nicholas would be more than thrilled. Almost as much as not having to worry about the laundry list of things he had to do last preseason.
- UNCG -