As part of our celebration for 50 years in women’s sports at Appalachian State, appstatesports.com will publish a monthly feature throughout 2018-19 on some of the top women’s sports moments in school history.
BOONE, N.C. – From 12 victories last season, the 2018 Appalachian State volleyball team, under the direction of head coach Matt Ginipro, rattled off a total of 22 wins, clinched the regular season Sun Belt East Division title, earned the second-ever berth into the SBC championship match and received the first postseason invitation since 1994.
2018’s success can be credited to taking complete ownership of the team, creating a competitive culture and a stellar start. Hence, App State kicked off the campaign with four straight clean sweeps of non-conference competition and emerged with a confident 4-0 mindset.
“Every returner came into our office and said that 12 wins (last season) wasn’t good enough, making the conference tournament wasn’t good enough, winning our first round match wasn’t good enough,” Ginipro said. “So, they wanted to do more. Once they understood what it took to do more, our spring practices leading into the season were great.”
Over the next few weeks, the Mountaineers faced adversity, dropping a pair of of contests at the Appalachian Open and also falling to Utah Valley and at East Tennessee State. However, back-to-back non-conference wins over Furman and Winthrop righted the ship heading into Sun Belt play. App State used momentum from its final two non-conference victories to open Sun Belt play with four consecutive wins, to sit at 12-4 on the season and a perfect 4-0 in conference play.
However, more bumps in the road were soon to be met. The Mountaineers went 1-3 during a tough four-match stretch against West Division foes to drop to 13-7 on the season and 5-3 in the Sun Belt.
The following weekend set up the defining moment of the season. The Black and Gold were set to face Coastal Carolina in back-to-back contests and sat just half a game behind the Chanticleers in the Sun Belt East Division standings. App State came out ready to go in Boone, sweeping past Coastal Carolina. Two days later in Conway, App State recorded a five set victory over the Chanticleers to take command of the Sun Belt East Division.
“(Coastal) was the last team in the Sun Belt that we didn’t have a win against,” Ginipro said. “So, our kids were fired up about it and we got them at home first. We executed the game plan that Chad Willis (associate head coach) set forth perfectly and we go and sweep them. To come back and play such a great match against Coastal, who had been the team to beat on our side, just shot confidence through the roof.”
The winning tone was thus set for the remainder of the season as the Mountaineers finished off the regular season with eight straight victories, propelling them into the conference tournament as the No. 2 overall seed along with the title of East Division Champions. Down the stretch, the Black and Gold posted four sweeps.
In the conference semifinals, App State defeated a dangerous, sixth-seeded Arkansas State team 3-1 to advance to the championship match, where an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament was on the line. However, the No. 1 overall seed and the regular season West Division champs stood in their way, the Texas State Bobcats (24-6, 15-1 SBC). The Mountaineers battled hard and forced a nail-biting 27-25 first set, but ultimately fell to the Bobcats.
2018 would not end on a runner-up note. An automatic qualification to the National Invitational Volleyball Tournament (NIVC), a bid to one of only seven teams with the best conference finishes that were not selected for the NCAA Tournament came calling, where the Mountaineers were scheduled to square off against Radford. Although App State surrendered a 3-1 match defeat to the Highlanders, the program’s first postseason appearance in 24 years has set the mark for Ginipro’s squad to meet and overcome in future seasons.
“It’s a good teaching opportunity (the NIVC) for programs that want to be perennially in the postseason,” Ginipro said. “Whether it is the NIVC or the NCAA, the NCAA is the goal, but we will take the NIVC all day. It extends our season, it allows us to be together another week, it allows us to train another week and it allows us to keep playing. The NIVC experience was great for our team and great for the program.”
The Mountaineers return three all-conference honorees in Emma Longley, Emma Reilly and Kara Spicer for 2019, as well as 10 other members from the team. Appalachian State will look to carry the momentum of a successful 2018 season into 2019 and beyond.