The New Mexico volleyball team starts its new season Friday in a matchup in Arkansas. Yet many of the players have already competed against each other in local high school matches and throughout their years in club volleyball.
Eight of the 15 players, including five freshmen, are native New Mexicans who will be working together through a busy fall schedule, featuring new teams in the Mountain West Conference.
“We all got to play against each other throughout high school,” said Cassie House, a freshman from Rio Rancho. “To be able to compete with each other, that makes our program really special.”
The team chemistry appeared to be on point as the Lobos won each set in their opening exhibition match against the alumnae volleyball squad.
Jeanne Fairchild, an outside hitting Third Team All-American and Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, played her last season as a Lobo in 2008, but returned to the court to join her fellow alumnae players.
Elsa Krieg spikes a ball over to the alumnae during the volleyball alumnae game on Saturday evening.
Fairchild was born and raised in Albuquerque and joined the Lobos after attending Saint Pius High School.
“When I played, I remember it being myself and two other people,” she said. “We are producing much better talent and the game itself, over the past few years, has grown so much.”
Chantale Riddle, the Lobos’ redshirt junior right-side hitter from Roswell, N.M., said she enjoys the local feel of the 2013 team.
She said the transition has been made easy in the company of her new teammates, joining forces with the New Mexico players against whom she used to compete.
“We have seen them play; They are great athletes,” Riddle said of the freshmen. “I love it that they are here and out of New Mexico.”
Head coach Jeff Nelson is reunited with House and freshman Julia Warren, having coached their club volleyball team in their first two years of high school. Nelson has made it clear that the level of talent and depth the Lobos have at all five positions is going to separate this year’s team from previous years’.
Even though the Lobos are returning three middle blockers, all of whom have been starters for Nelson, he said the competition in practice leading up to the season is going to be at a high level.
“It is going to be a battle to see who claims those starting spots,” he said. “It has been fun to plan what is going to happen.”
Lobos beat alumnae 3-0
The Lobos didn’t look like a tender-footed team against veteran players on Saturday at Johnson Center.
In the first set, the alumnae were able to exchange points back and forth until the Lobos took the set with an 8-point run. Warren led the team in digs and kills, with five. Hannah Johnson led the team assisting 15 of the 25 points as the Lobos won 25-12.
In the second set, the Lobos saw a familiar face shine as Riddle led her team with six kills, while Johnson added 14 more assists and Warren had five more digs. The Lobos cruised to a 25-14 victory.
With outstanding defensive play from both sides, the third set was a close battle. The Lobos were able to win by an abundance of electrifying spikes from Riddle, who had 10 kills on 13 attempts, finishing her night with a game-high 20 kills on 36 attempts.
Johnson finished her night with the game-high 45 assists, and Warren led the game with 10 digs.
Even though games are normally determined in a best of five sets, the Lobos played a fourth and final set, winning 25-13.
The Lobos play against UMKC in their season opener on Friday at noon at the Arkansas Invitational.