GREENSBORO, N.C. – Facing a 2-0 deficit Friday night, the UNCG volleyball team mustered a stirring rally which resulted in a 3-2 victory over in-state rival UNC Wilmington before a raucous crowd inside Fleming Gymnasium on the first day of the Spartan Spiketacular.
The Spartans (5-4) improved to 2-3 this season in five-set matches, winning their first such decision since the opening weekend of the season – a victory over Liberty. UNCG had dropped three consecutive five-set affairs to High Point, UNC Asheville and American University.
"I am still disappointed with our level of effort at the start of matches, but we hung in there and pulled out the win," head coach Patrick Nicholas said. "I thought our crowd was awesome again tonight, especially with the men's basketball and baseball teams here cheering us on."
I challenged our players to respond after the second set and they did that. I thought [Karrian] Chambers was huge for us in the fourth set and I was really proud of Olivia [Humphries] and Vicky [Harley] for the way they finished the match."
After allowing the Seahawks (6-6) to hit well over .300 in the first three sets, the Spartans limited their guests to .157 and .115 performances in the fourth and fifth frames. UNCW would end up with the upper hand hitting-wise at .263-.204, but the teams tied in kills with 69 apiece. UNCG dug 78 balls as compared to 76 for the Seahawks while UNC Wilmington finished with a 12.0-8.0 advantage in total blocks.
Redshirt junior Olivia Humphries came alive as the match went on, recording a career-best 25 kills on 49 attempts with six errors to post a .388 hitting mark. She also produced a personal-best 11 digs for her first-ever double-double. Sophomore Vicky Harley was also a key cog for the offense, putting down a career-high 16 kills and hitting .333 (16k/36ta/4e). Defensively, the Spartan received 19 digs each from their two liberos – junior Kellie Orewiler and freshman Katherine Santiago. Junior Morgan Freeman also contributed two service aces and five blocks.
"We started off really poorly tonight," Humphries said. "After the intermission, we came out, found some energy and started putting balls away. We wanted to show what we were truly made of and protect our home court. I am just really excited with the outcome tonight."
The first set was tied at seven before a 6-1 run, capped off by a McKenzie Keightley kill, pushed UNCW in front 13-8 and forced a UNCG timeout. The advantage grew to 16-10 before the Spartans scored four of the next five points to pull within 17-14. The home side could not take advantage of the momentum, however, as Jennifer Mallard shut the door with a kill to give the Seahawks the 25-18 frame victory.
In the second interval, the teams fought to a deadlock at 11 before a 7-1 run gave UNCW full control of the set. Tough serving by Morgan Kline contributed to the outburst as she recorded two aces during the stretch. UNCG could manage just three more points in the frame as the Seahawks cruised into the intermission with a 25-15 win and a 2-0 match advantage.
A Humphries kill made the score 10-8 in favor of the Spartans as the third set commenced and the lead grew to 14-10 when Freeman tallied an ace. UNCG led by 18-12 and 21-14 scores before UNC Wilmington came roaring back to tie the proceedings at 23. A kill by Harley gave the Spartans their first set point of the match, but the Seahawks were able to fight UNCG off twice to tie the frame at 25. Keightley put the next serve in the net, however, while Humphries put down a kill on the next rally to send the match to a fourth set.
UNC Wilmington raced out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth interval, drawing a quick timeout from the Spartan sideline. Things didn't get much better for UNCG from there as a Christi Laite kill made the score 13-6. The advantage ballooned to as much as 17-9 before the Spartans began the comeback. With the score at 18-11, three-straight kills from junior Karrian Chambers, Harley and sophomore Kelsey Sidney drew the Spartans to within four. It looked grim for the home team when Keightley posted a kill to give the visitors a 21-18 lead.
The odds were even slimmer for UNCG to force a deciding set when Meredith Peacock gave the Seahawks their first match point at 24-21 with a kill. However, two Spartan kills and a UNCW attack error pumped new life into UNCG and knotted the set at 24. The Seahawks couldn't find the mark on offense the last two rallies, as two attacking errors capped a set-ending 5-0 run for the Spartans - who took the interval 26-24.
UNCG was forced to play from behind again in the decider when, with things tied at three, the Seahawks went on a 5-1 tear to move in front by four. Humphries and Chambers put the Spartans on their backs, however, recording kill after kill to deadlock the set at 10 points apiece. The teams traded small 2-0 runs before a Humphries kill and a UNCG block afforded the Spartans two match points. Sophomore Emily McMurtrey barely missed her next serve long, but Humphries rose over the block once more, slamming the door shut with a kill to complete the improbable comeback.
UNCG continues play at the Spartan Spiketacular tomorrow (Sept. 15) with a match against Youngstown State at noon.
In the first match of the day, Morehead State defeated Youngstown State 3-0 (27-25, 25-9, 25-19).