Volleyball: Dog Pound Challenge serves a greater cause

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The UConn Volleyball team signs team posters during the Dog Pound Challenge. (Hanaisha Lewis, Grab Photographer/ The Daily Campus)

The UConn women’s volleyball team played host to the Dog Pound Challenge this weekend that included matchups against Holy Cross, Rutgers and St. John’s. The Huskies finished the weekend with a 2-1 record, pushing their season record to 8-5, with five of those victories coming at home in Gampel Pavilion.

The Dog Pound Challenge is not only a competitive volleyball tournament, but it is an event to raise money and awareness for nearby shelters and dogs looking for a new home. The fundraising was primarily held by UConn’s only professional agricultural sorority, Sigma Alpha, who sat outside Gampel collecting dog toys, leashes and food to give to local shelters.

Sigma Alpha say they pride themselves on their four pillars of scholarship, leadership, service and fellowship. They also set up a GoFundMe page with the volleyball team that allows anyone to easily donate online.

President of Sigma Alpha Mindy Gosselin said that the sorority is focused on helping local animal shelters.

“One of our main national philanthropies involves farm animals, heifer international, so it’s in our roots,” Gosselin said. “Several years ago, we started to have pet supply drives on campus and received an immense amount of support. Many of our sisters are interested in animal science and some aspire to be veterinarians one day. Our sisters have had countless internships with local shelters and zoos. Hearing about all of their experiences helped fuel our motivation and passion to continue to support this cause.”

Gosselin noted that the volleyball team approached them four years ago asking for a partnership, which resulted in what is now the annual Dog Pound Challenge. Gosselin has been a part of Sigma Alpha since it started and has really been able to see it grow over the last few years.

“Seeing the momentum this event has gained over the years whether it was through donations, people going to the dog adoption event or just attending the Dog Pound Challenge volleyball tournament, has been incredible,” Gosselin said. “None of which would have been possible without the UConn athletic department, UConn Volleyball team and Sigma Alpha’s sisters and Sigma Alpha’s present/past philanthropy chairs. I am very humbled to be president of an organization that cares so much about local shelters and is dedicated to spreading awareness. This particular event is focused in the Mansfield area but the support for shelters also extends much further than just locally.”

She is very thankful for all of the contributions this year and is looking forward to another successful event next year.

In addition to the sisters of Sigma Alpha, an organization called Wings of Freedom Animal Rescue was also in attendance outside Gampel with puppies and dogs of all ages that were up for adoption. This organization is all-volunteer and non-profit, clearly signifying they are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, just to see dogs find new homes. To find out more about this organization, their website is www.wingsoffreedomanimalrescue.org.

Moreover, it’s great to see the volleyball team using their platform to help raise the necessary awareness to make a substantial difference for some of these dogs and shelters. I spoke with head coach Kris Grunwald and asked for his thoughts on the event and its impact on the community.

“For me, I always told myself that if I ever became a head coach of a canine mascot that this would be an idea that I’d want to do because I’m a huge dog lover,” Grunwald said. “Who’s not? The canine community is so awesome. You talk to a lot of coaches and we think and feel so much about our game that when you go home and your dog’s sitting there, they don’t know whether you win, lose, or draw, they don’t care. So obviously growing up with them and always having one, it’s just something special.”

It’s great knowing that this cause already is creating a lasting impact on the UConn community and areas nearby. UConn students definitely have a place in their hearts for dogs as well as athletics.

“The GoFundMe page was at a little over $1000 on Friday morning,” Grunwald said. “One of the people from the rescue said that one of the big things for them is that when they’re out there, outside of the financial part, they basically fill all of their volunteer positions by students walking by and offering their help. So, if we could play a little part in helping the K-9 community and make it a better situation, than that’s all the better.”

Combining UConn’s love for dogs and sports to create an event able to raise over $1000 online in a short span of time, as well as various item donations, can have a tremendous impact on the surrounding community.

Now, regarding the actual gameplay from this weekend, the Huskies beat Holy Cross (1-10) and Rutgers (5-7) on Friday before falling to St. John’s (11-4) in consecutive sets on Saturday.

The first match against Holy Cross was a sweep for the Huskies. Senior Danielle Cabel and sophomore Genna Florig led the way offensively, both with 10 kills. Emma Turner continued her dynamic playmaking ability, tallying a team-best 32 assists. Defensively, the Huskies were led by freshman Caylee Parker with 10 digs. Elizabeth Kline also chipped in with six digs.

In the Friday nightcap, Parker was outstanding for the Huskies as she recorded 22 kills, while Turner led UConn with 47 assists. Defensively, Genna Florig recorded five blocks, proving to be a huge difference maker down the stretch in the first two sets. Kline also showed outstanding defense as she racked up an impressive 23 digs.

St. John’s proved to be a very tough opponent for UConn, as the Huskies weren’t able to make it past 20 points in any of the three sets.

UConn will look to bounce back next weekend as they travel to Texas for a match with SMU (3- 7) Friday at 8 p.m., and Houston (13-2) Sunday at 2 p.m.

To learn more about Sigma Alpha, they can be followed @UConnSigmaAlpha or reached by email at UConnSigmaAlpha@gmail.com.


Sam Newton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at samuel.newton@uconn.edu.

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