Starting roster spots are generally won in the preseason. However, New Mexico head volleyball coach Jeff Nelson has a different plan to accommodate one of the deepest teams he has coached.
Elsa Krieg, Victoria Spragg, Simone Henderson and Skye Gullatt have all caught the coach’s attention as potential starters at middle blocker.
“We are really deep in the middle. I think we’ve got four really strong middles,” Nelson said. “I think that position on some nights could even come down to how they warmup.”
On Saturday the Lobos will host its annual alumnae game, which could potentially play a big role in the nomination of starting spots.
“Any one of the four kids in the middle can start right now,” Nelson said. “That’s a good problem, but it’s something that I am going to have to take a really good look at in the match this weekend.”
The outside hitter position battle will also be under close surveillance. Although there is more wiggle room with Cassie House, Julia Warren and Devanne Sours competing for two spots, Nelson is confident that any combination of the three players is a possibility.
Redshirt junior Hannah Johnson will not have to endure any grueling uncertainty of her starting role as New Mexico’s setter. However, the Washington native doesn’t take the exhibition game lightly, as the team looks to gel in preparation for the upcoming season.
The veteran setter said she finds the exhibition game as a way to get the incoming freshmen a feel for the home-court ambiance.
“It will be nice to get the pregame jitters out and have the freshmen play at the collegiate level and just having them play in Johnson gym where we will have over 2,000 fans coming to see us,” Johnson said.
UNM has a lot to live up to this year, having been picked to finish second in the Mountain West behind rival powerhouse Colorado State. Nelson predicted that Colorado State, which won the last five league titles, and Utah State will be in serious competition with the Lobos for the conference title.
“I think based on last year’s results and Colorado State’s history, it’s right,” he said. “You’re talking about three teams that all have the potential to be in postseason.”
Although Nelson said all of the teams have the capability to take the title, the head coach likes the chances for his squad to achieve that first-place spot.
“I think it’s going to be a great battle again. I think that we are stronger than we were last year,” Nelson said. “I think we are deeper than we were last year … and I think that we have the ability to make a great run at it.”
UNM will be assembled around the team’s sole senior this year in hopes to contest in postseason play. Chantale Riddle is not a newbie in terms of being recognized for her unique skill from the right side. To begin her final season as a Lobo, Riddle has been deemed the Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year.
“I think that she’s earned it. She’s led the conference in kills the past two years,” Nelson said. “She is the most decorated player returning in the conference … She’s just done more than any other player in the conference at this point.”
The southpaw has been recognized with all-national honors in addition to her All-American status. She obtained the 2013 New Mexico Female Athlete of the Year.
Nelson said the exposure Riddle has generated is not only good for the redshirt senior individually, but the attention benefits the entire squad and the University.
Liam Cary-Eaves is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Liam_CE.