The early success that the New Mexico volleyball team has experienced can be attributed to the team as a whole even when star players have rocky nights.
The Lobos (10-1) have been winning tough games by relying on the depth of their team to pick up the slack when individual players are having off nights. The Lobos’ bench provides a change of pace whenever head coach Jeff Nelson sees fit.
“We are winning when our best players aren’t playing well and that’s a really good sign,” Nelson said.
Particularly, UNM’s freshmen have been stepping up in bigger situations. Individual players have been asked to fill specialty roles to pick up the slack when the team needs a spark. Freshman defensive specialist and server Danielle Ortiz has noticed an increase in playing time recently.
“It’s a tough role in the sense that you have to be ready to jump in for anyone,” Ortiz said. “I have become more ready to come in at any time.”
Ortiz is not the only person seeing more time on the floor.
Freshman outside hitter and middle blocker Cassie House saw limited playing time in the early stages of the season because of an abdominal injury. She hit for double digit kills against Air Force and hit a career high 14 kills against NMSU on Monday.
“As an entire team we have come together and focused on everyone getting their jobs done,” House said.
House did not say if her increased role was due to her health.
“I feel good, knock on wood,” House replied jokingly. “It feels good to feel good.”
The Lobos, guided by their young players, were able to take the Rio Grande Rivalry Game against NMSU (5-8) on Monday night. In a game that took all 5 sets to produce a winner, UNM came out victorious 3-2 against the Aggies in a hostile environment.
“In games four and five (at different times) we played five freshmen,” Nelson said. “That was pretty cool to get all of those kids some playing time in a huge match and being successful.”
The Lobos will host another highly anticipated rivalry game on Saturday facing the No. 19 CSU Rams (10-0) at 1 p.m. in Johnson Center.
“It is really going to set the tone for the rest of the conference,” Nelson said. “We have really pushed this rivalry … It’s good for our conference and good for our sport.”
The Lobos have not performed well against the Rams, having won two out of the 12 contests under Nelson. CSU has a 45-23 record against UNM all time.
“UNM has always had beef with CSU,” House said. “It is going to be a good and exciting physical match.”