The youthful New Mexico volleyball team didn’t feel any growing pains this weekend, sweeping its first home tournament of the year.
UNM (5-1) faced the UC Riverside Highlanders (0-6) on Friday at the Sheraton Airport Lobo Classic.
The Lobos won each of the three sets against the Highlanders as redshirt junior right side hitter Chantale Riddle led the team with 16 of the team’s 39 kills. The first set was the closest of the game at 25-20. In the second set, the Lobos cruised to a 25-17 victory while saving the 25-11 romping for the third set to defeat the Highlanders.
UNM swept Idaho State (4-3) later that day in front of a crowd of 1,236 fans.
Senior libero Miquella Lovato stood out as one of the tougher defensive players in the tournament and received all-tournament honors. Leading the team with 20 digs against Idaho State, Lovato seemed to be on the right side of every hard hit ball or squandering pass.
“Our plan is to work harder than the other team,” she said. “Defense is probably the thing that you have to work the hardest at.”
The first set was truly a defensive battle. The long volleys and outstanding defensive efforts kept both teams on edge, with no one was able to pull far ahead of the other.
The Lobos took the lead after a 9-9 tie and were able to hold on to a tight lead the rest of the set. The Bengals kept pace, not allowing the Lobos to be more than four points ahead at any moment. UNM was able to maintain the lead winning the first set 25-22.
The second set was not as competitive as the first.
The Lobos were able to shoot .476 from the field, while the Bengals could not muster up a positive percentage. UNM defeated Idaho State 25-11 in the second set.
In the third and final set, the Lobos continued to rely on strong defensive efforts and hard hitting. Thunderous spikes, coming off Riddle and big-hitting senior middle backer Lexi Ross sparked the Lobos to a 25-18 victory.
Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech (3-3) didn’t come as easily to the Lobos.
During the first match, the Lobos appeared to be in complete control, as they had the previous games of the tournament. The Lobos didn’t trail again after breaking a 4-4 tie in the early stages.
The Lobos struggled in the second set, allowing the Yellow Jackets to score the final 6 points of the set. UNM was unable to find its offensive groove as Georgia Tech tied the game up at one set apiece.
Head coach Jeff Nelson didn’t blame his team for lack of hustle or fatigue but he said inexperience played a key role in the Lobos’ struggle.
“Our immaturity came through a little bit again today,” Nelson said. “With young players we are just kind of riding some highs and lows.”
The third set of the game was the closest the Lobos had played all year.
There were five ties and three lead changes throughout the course of the match. The Lobos trailed for the majority of the second half of the set. But the Lobos were able to keep pace with the Yellow Jackets, tying the game at 24.
UNM took the lead, coming off a diving pass from Lovato to redshirt sophomore setter Hannah Johnson. The Yellow Jackets were able to tie the game up at 25 before the Lobos got the final two points of the match with the winning slam from freshman outside hitter Cassie House.
The fourth match featured five ties in another close match with only one lead change. The Lobos took the lead after a 9-9 tie and didn’t give up the lead again. The winning point came off another outside hitting freshman, Julia Warren.
“Hopefully we are going to mature as we go,” Nelson said. “We did do what we needed to at the end of the game.”