Kills are dramatic. They get all the glory. The set up. The leap. Then the crunching spike high above the net, as the crowd erupts.
Junior Branagan Fuller knows her kills. She notched her 1,000th career kill early this fall, the eighth Spartan to do it. Senior Kaitlyn Nortz has reached that mark as well.
It finishes the play, Fuller says. They don't dig it, the team can't return it that's a kill.
A kill doesn't have to be a spike. If it ends the play, it's a kill. It doesn't matter if you hit it 100 miles an hour or you tipped it over someone.
How does it feel? Amazing! It's the best feeling when you know that what you have, the other team can't handle.
Catherine Hanners, another junior, is queen of the digs.
The lowly defensive dig is essential to a team's success. You prevent a kill by getting down and keeping the ball alive, no matter how hard it is slammed.
Hanners had nearly twice as many as anyone else on the team last year. It's just natural for me to go where the ball is, she says. Sometimes that entails a desperate leap, what she calls an emergency move.
A dig may result in a bruise or scrape, but keeping the ball in play brings its own reward.
It feels good. If someone on the other team is hitting the ball hard and you're able to get it up off the ground to make a play, it feels like you did something important.
It's a team effort. This is a team that has made it to the SoCon tournament championship game the past two years, a first for the program. They began this year picked to finish first in the SoCon Northern division.
A point-saving dig. A set-up pass near the net. And a slam for a kill. That's a winning combination.
When you call Michael Hardiman and get his voicemail, you're transported to a big arena, with opening chords of rock intro music. And now the pregame announcer says, #22 in your charts and #1 in your hearts Michael Hardiman!
Who can blame him for being excited? He's living the dream so many kids have, playing Div. I ball.
When Hardiman arrived on campus as a freshman, he figured his playing days were over. But he stopped by the coaches' office. He got all the details he could about tryouts.
Meanwhile, he and some buddies eight of them decided they'd support the sports teams by painting up and cheering loud at big games. They called themselves The Ocho, Spanish for the eight. That was a diversion during the fall, but still the dream called.
He tried out as a walk-on. He didn't think he stood a chance.
Between classes one day, he got the call. He was on the team.
The first time he took the court in Fleming Gym for pregame warmups, the seven other Ocho were already assembled and cheering for him. They had a surprise a mannequin they'd painted up, wearing a jersey with Hardiman's name and number. I couldn't keep a straight face, he says, recalling the scene. My friends were excited for me.
He's a junior now. He lives with an Ocho member and two players, Pete Brown and Mikko Koivisto. He and Koivisto both play guard, and they spur each other on. They often practice shooting early, before classes.
Koivisto is part of a talented junior class, which also includes Kendall Toney and Ben Stywall. Those three guys will surprise a lot of people, Hardiman predicts.
The team has a challenging schedule. Fans are looking toward the UNCG-Davidson game in the Greensboro Coliseum Feb. 5. Davidson came within one shot of reaching the Final Four last March. Their match-up last February rocked Fleming Gym.
The Spartans also travel to NC State on Nov. 30. Hardiman recalls his first time in their arena with awe.
It really is something else, he says, playing in such large arenas. You're staring at 10,000 people, compared to 150 at a high school game.
When he was a kid, he'd think Those guys are so good.
Now, when he's warming up before a big game, he might glance into the stands. Some little kid is always looking, he says.
It's a humbling feeling.
Want to be among the best? You take on some of the best.
Before launching into their SoCon schedule this fall, women's soccer traveled to #16 Duke and #15 Wake Forest. They were invited to the Stanford/Nike Invitational in California, where they took on #15 Santa Clara and #3 Stanford. Of those, they notched one big win against Santa Clara.
A challenging early season pays dividends.
It gets us ready for conference play, said senior Jamie Corti, an All-Conference defender who helped lead a defensive line that gave up only 19 goals in 22 games last year.
It puts us through a lot of adversity, so that when we get into conference play, we can pretty much face any situation and know how to handle it.
The team was the preseason favorite to claim the SoCon title. They returned eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago, when they won the regular season title and went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Of the 11-member preseason All-Conference team, four were Spartans. One was Corti.
Another was Kristen Player, 2007 Freshman of the Year. She led the Spartans last season with 10 goals five of them game-winners.
She attributes her success to great set-up passes and teamwork. We all work off of each other.
The team entered conference play with a 17-match win streak in SoCon regular season play.
We have a lot to prove every year, Player said. We don't want to lose.
New UNCG Athletics Hall of Fame inductees include former softball standout Karyn Thompson Voelz, three-time men's soccer All-American Siggi Eyjolfsson '97, four-time NCAA wrestling qualifier Joe Stanton '99 and the 1983 national runner-up women's tennis team. That 1983 tennis team was led by Coach Lynne Agee. Agee, who has been UNCG's women's basketball coach for the last 27 seasons, was inducted into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame this summer and was inducted into the UNCG Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.