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Friday, November 28, 2014

Volleyball: Deep bench, tough foes

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Lobo redshirt freshman outside hitter Ashley Kelsey keeps the ball in play during the Lobo Alumnae game at Johnson Gym on Saturday night. The Lobos will open their season against Seattle U this afternoon.

For the first time during his eight years at New Mexico, head volleyball coach Jeff Nelson doesn’t have to worry about the Lobos’ lack of depth.

The team will have the ability to adjust the rotation based on matchups that will determine playing time from the versatile middle blocker position.

With such a deep bench, it is often difficult to choose the starting rotation. However, each roster spot on this team appears to be filled after Nelson appointed Simone Henderson to starting duties at the middle blocker position for the season opener today.

“I think that for the first time since I’ve been here, we can go through 12 (players) and maintain our level,” Nelson said. “The depth is going to be good. Both in the outside hitter and the middle position is really deep.”

New Mexico will start the 2014 campaign with a highly touted tournament this weekend featuring Seattle University, No. 2 Texas, and UTEP.

A whirlwind of excitement surrounding the match against the ranked Longhorns has Nelson stressing to his team that the emphasis needs to be on the game at hand, rather than peering into the future.

“We’re talking a lot about Texas on Friday night but Seattle U at 1 p.m. on Friday is a really good team,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to work really hard these next three days to keep our players focused on that match.”

The head coach said having the afternoon opener as the first game of the season against Seattle will provide enough distraction from the much-anticipated game against the Longhorns in the evening.

“There’s always excitement for the first game of the year,” Nelson said. “The hard part is that we know that we are going to have a big crowd on Friday night… It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to find a way.”

However, it certainly is hard to look past a Texas team that has been a powerhouse for the better half of a decade — including a National Championship in 2012.

“They came out ranked number two and got a lot of first-place votes. Most people think they are the first-place team,” Nelson said. “They’ve been in five of the last six final fours and it’s a great test for us right away,”

The game will surely create some intriguing matchups against a New Mexico team that is trying to break into the top 25, while Texas has proven to be a top competitor.

“There are four kids that have been All-Americans in different years starting on that team,” Nelson said. “We are going to have our hands full… We feel like it’s what we need to do to get ready for the rest of the season.”

While Nelson is excited about the challenge of facing a top-tier team, he knows the game will require more than just adequate play from his squad.

“We’re the most prepared we’ve ever been, but they are a great team,” he said. “It’s going to take a perfect night for us to have a shot at this.”

Nelson said his team has the ability matchup with the number two team athletically, although size will be a major concern. He said the recruitment process is getting better and the progress his team has shown is why the Lobos will have an opportunity to upset a top-five team.

Nelson doesn’t know a lot about Saturday’s matchup against UTEP but is confident that he will be able to find out the team’s tendencies as they will play Seattle and Texas before finishing up the tournament against the Lobos.

Liam Cary-Eaves is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at sports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Liam_CE.