The University of New Mexico women’s volleyball team got a chance to play its first two Mountain West Conference home games, earning a split over the week.
New Mexico (10-6, 2-2 MW) dropped the first match to the Boise State Broncos on Thursday, but rebounded with a win over the Utah State Aggies on Saturday.
The Lobos expected stiff competition from the Broncos, who were the 2016 Mountain West Conference champions. Head coach Jeff Nelson predicted that the Boise contest would be the tougher of the two matchups during the weekly press conference, due to the experience level of the team overall and because of the high profile of some of their athletes.
Senior Bronco Sierra Nobley, who holds the Mountain West Conference record for career kills, would have likely been a key player for UNM to keep an eye on. Fortunately for the Lobos, Nobley was put on the injured list and did not play in the match. However, Broncos Janell Walley and Sabryn Roberts proved to be formidable as well.
Things started out well against Boise State with the Lobos winning the first set 25-21. From there, however, things did not go the Lobos’ way. Boise State came back with a vengeance in the next set, crushing the Lobos 25-8, which is the lowest number of points the Lobos have scored in a set in program history, according to a release. The next two sets were only slightly better, with UNM falling 25-12 and 25-15.
While Lauren Twitty and Mariessa Carrasco managed to drive in eight kills each, and Carson Heilborn put in 23 assists, the efforts were not nearly enough to counter Boise State.
On virtually every metric, UNM lagged behind Boise State, in some cases substantially.
On blocks for example, UNM managed only four, whereas Boise State racked up 17. UNM’s offense was limited to only 28 total kills, compared to 58 for Boise State, and they lost the battle for digs, 66 to 46.
UNM ended the match with a –.021 hit clip overall, which is the first time the team has registered negative hitting percentages since November of 2015. By comparison, Boise registered a .239 hit percentage.
Against Utah State University on Saturday, the situation was radically reversed. The Lobos licked their wounds and played like the Boise State defeat never happened. UNM overpowered the Aggies in three straight sets 25-20, 25-22 and 25-17 in their “whiteout” match, ending the five-game winning-streak enjoyed by the Aggies.
Twitty was back in her usual form, leading with 15 kills, followed by Carrasco who drove in eight kills. Victoria Spragg and Yasmin Tan each contributed six kills, and Carly Beddingfield added five more.
Mercedes Pacheco also contributed two of UNM’s four service aces and registered a game-high 11 digs. Carson Heilborn also turned in a familiar performance with a game-high 30 assists.
In a release, Carrasco summed up team sentiments.
“We just decided that we needed to light a fire and, especially after Thursday, we needed make our fans proud and do something for New Mexico,” Carrasco said.
On all the metrics where the Lobos struggled in their earlier match, UNM turned around to dominate. They outhit their opponent at a .277 clip compared to .172 for the Aggies and notched 43 kills, compared to 35. The Lobos were also able to outdig the Aggies 39 to 35.
The Lobos will next head to Reno, Nevada on Thursday, Oct. 5 to take on the Nevada Wolfpack and then battle the San Jose Spartans on Saturday, Oct. 7 before returning to Johnson Center for another pair of home games.
Aaron Cowan is a volunteer sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball and men’s and women’s golf. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AaronTCowan.