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Friday, November 28, 2014

Dazzling performances in opening volleyball tournament

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By Diana Cervantes / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Lobo redshirt junior setter Hannah Johnson encourages the team after their loss against the Texas Longhorns Friday night at Johnsons Gym. The Lobos lost to a 0-3 outcome.

Fresh faces on the hardwood presented exceptional skill during the New Mexico volleyball team’s opening tournament.

The Lobos (2-1 for the season) seem to have found comfort with redshirt freshman Ashley Kelsey cleaning things up from the libero position and with a junior transfer out of Grossmont College, middle blocker Simone Henderson.

Henderson helped her squad earn wins over Seattle U (1-2) and UTEP (0-3), and was a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy night against No. 2 Texas (3-0).

“At the JC (junior college) I started, and that really helped me see the court better and it helped me build my confidence,” Henderson said. “When I came here, Jeff (Nelson, UNM’s head coach) told me that ‘I need you as a reliable player. I need you to hit balls down … I need you to do what you came here for.’”

A dazzling performance from Henderson displayed why she was a highly touted recruit.

“Simone Henderson had an amazing day today,” head coach Jeff Nelson said Friday. “She blocked well, she hit balls, she’s a great addition to our team. What an awesome thing that she can come out her first day here and have a day like this.”

The highlight of Henderson’s young Lobo career came while against the tall middle blockers from Texas. Henderson accumulated six kills — the team high for that match — on just 12 attempts along with four block assists.

“We just feel that, even though we lost, we are coming together as a team more,” she said. “We can rely on each other … We can only get better from here.”

Nelson viewed the game against Texas as a learning experience to find resilience in the team as a whole.

“If we can get tougher and better from this, it’s worth it,” he said. “This (Texas team) is the best we’ll see. We won’t see anything close to this the rest of the year.”

UNM could not claim a lead in any of the three sets against the Longhorns. Although the Lobos were poised enough to tie the matches in the first and third sets, the powerhouse Texas squad did not allow the Lobos to take control of any assortment.

“You saw why people think they are the best team in the country,” Nelson said. “We held them to .209 hitting. That’s about 100 points lower than they usually do, and they still beat the crap out of us.”

Despite the sweep, Johnson Center roared throughout the entire game. There were a lot of burnt orange shirts mixed within the sea of Lobo fans, but the majority of the 3,875 fans seemed desperate for an upset.

“The atmosphere was crazy awesome. It didn’t matter what the score was, people were into it,” Nelson said. “It was fun as it’s ever been in here. It was really fantastic.”

Nelson said the most consistent player on the roster, Julia Warren, was not up to her reliable standards. Illness may have played a factor in the outside hitter’s rocky performance because the sophomore was not in attendance for the tournament finale against UTEP.

“She had a temperature and ended up in the ER last night,” Nelson said. “Everybody just pulled it up. Cassie (House) and Devanne (Sours) did a great job from the outside.”

Sours put together nine kills, the game high, and dug out six balls to assist her team to a 3-0 sweep over UTEP following the loss to Texas.

“I think I just had fun and played hard,” Sours said. “We were really tight last game and I think everyone relaxed. Everyone played their own game and played really well.”

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