By Rob Daniels
The weather is supposed to be benign, the opposition isn't, and the UNCG Spartans intend to be prepared for both this weekend.
A soccer doubleheader and a volleyball tournament highlight an eventful schedule on campus as the university continues its Rawkin' Welcome Week by prominently featuring three of its fall teams.
It starts early in the afternoon with the UNCG Invitational, a five-team, two-day, round-robin volleyball event. A year ago, coach Patrick Nicholas' Spartans continued their development in conference play, going 9-7 in the league and 22-12 overall. The core of that group is back in setter Ari Lysacek, outside hitter Ariel Newman and libero Kellie Orewiler, an All-SoCon freshman teamer in 2010.
The Spartans face Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m. Friday and return to the floor at 7 when they take on East Tennessee State, which went 26-9 last season. Saturday's play pairs UNCG with N.C. A&T at 3 p.m. and the Purple Aces of Evansville at 7.
The Spartan women's soccer team takes on Wake Forest at 6 p.m. Friday and the men follow immediately thereafter by welcoming Duke. In the process, UNCG will be the only program in the country to host nationally ranked foes in both sports this weekend.
And the outdoor action is expected to go off without incident. Hurricane Irene is considered a major storm and a threat to much of the East Coast, but being inland has its advantages. Friday's Triad forecast calls for clear skies.
The party starts with the Spartan Restaurant Tailgate at 5 p.m. The event, set for the parking lot between the stadium's south end zone and the HHP Building, will feature a kid-friendly zone as well as various food options.
Coach Steve Nugent's Spartan women are presumably eager to back at it after dropping their season-opener 4-0 to Virginia Tech last week. A season ago, the Spartans used a win at Wake to jump-start the best season in school history, and they'd love to duplicate that effort starting Friday.
The men of coach Justin Maullin, who, like the women are preseason picks to defend their Southern Conference championship, got as much as NCAA rules allow out of their training period. Last Tuesday, they practiced in the morning and played NC State to a scoreless tie that evening in their first tune-up. They followed that up by defeating UNC Pembroke on Saturday.
"Defending with our front players was my biggest concern," said Maullin, the 2010 SoCon Coach of the Year. "At NC State, I was very encouraged by the fact that I knew we would compete, and that's half our battle."
The Spartans have five preseason All-SoCon picks, led by forward Hakan Ilhan, last year's conference scoring leader. Still, the roster suggests there have been challenges to August. No less than 18 players are listed as redshirt sophomores or younger in eligibility, and Maullin hinted that three true freshmen are likely to be in the mix early on.
In all, 15 Spartans saw action at State and the entire squad got in against Pembroke.
"We've still got work to do," the coach said. "We've only been training for 11 days now. You're limited to 21 practice opportunities before your first game. Then again, last year, we were in camp all of three days and we beat Duke (in a preseason game) 1-0. It's still difficult to get everybody on the same page and ready to go."
This year, the meeting with the Blue Devils counts, and it's a good measuring stick. Last weekend, Duke played two exhibitions, tying the Indiana Hoosiers and the Mastodons of IPFW 1-1.
Before hitting SoCon play, the Spartans will also play at Clemson and William & Mary.