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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Volleyball: Lobos shine in alumni game

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Lobo sophomore setter Lise Rugland watches the ball go into the audience during the Lobo Alumnae Volleyball exhibition at Johnson Gym on Saturday night. The current Lobos defeated the Alumnae team 3-1.

The starting unit for the New Mexico volleyball team was sharp in lone preseason play, beating the alumnae team 3-1 on Saturday.

Although the annual exhibition game is designed to brush off the cobwebs and show off some of the younger talent, head coach Jeff Nelson said the alumnae opponent boasted a stiff test.

“Overall I’m really happy, and I do think that it will help us as we move into next weekend,” Nelson said. “The alumnae team out there for us has three or four All-Americans on it. It’s not a terrible team by any means.”

In the first set, the Lobos exposed the alumnae after finding the holes on the hardwood while the alumnae team looked to get on the same page. Outside hitter Chantale Riddle recorded six kills, the set high, in a 25-15 victory.

The second set appeared to be a lot more of the same style of play as the Lobos’ defensive execution was on point in a 25-8 route.

“They were fun to watch,” Nelson said of his team’s defensive play. “They were physical. They blocked a ton of balls.”

In the third set, Nelson brought in some younger players to observe some different combinations. The third set did not come as easily after Riddle took to the bench; UNM ended up winning the set 25-20.

“In Game 3, after we made some changes, I thought it took us a little while to adjust,” Nelson said. “At the end of the game, I thought we played pretty well.”

In the fourth and final set, the alumnae took advantage of the youth on the court, taking the set 25-18.

Riddle said that while it was fun to play against some former New Mexico players, she did not take the game lightly in lieu of the competition.

“We always joke around on the court and always help each other out,” she said. “At this moment it is competition.”

Former New Mexico starter Lexi Ross, meanwhile, said she was glad to get back on the court to face some of her previous teammates.

“I don’t like to get beat because I am very competitive,” Ross said. “It’s really promising that they did so well … It’s bittersweet for sure.”

With the regular season looming, Riddle said she knows that the team has a lot of work to do before the opening tournament, but she is pleased by where the team is right now.

“I think that we just need to work on our communication a little bit better,” Riddle said. “I think that we played well and came out strong.”

One of the roster battles that Nelson wanted to look at was the outside hitter position. However, Cassie House was not able to participate in the alumnae exhibition due to soreness in her shoulder.

Although House felt that she could play, Nelson took precaution in order to get the hard-hitting sophomore as healthy as possible. Sophomore Devanne Sours had an outstanding performance at that position with 10 kills on the evening. Only Riddle had more, with 16.

“Devanne is probably the most improved player on this team,” Nelson said. “She’s hitting the ball harder; she’s jumping higher, taking good swings … I like what she did tonight and what she’s been doing throughout practice.”

In the midst of the roster battles, it appears that Nelson may have found a replacement at the libero spot. Ashley Kelsey took on the majority of the duties in the heart of her team’s defense. While Nelson has not named his starting lineup yet, the head coach appears to be leaning toward Kelsey to fill that role.

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