The University of New Mexico volleyball team will be looking to carry some momentum from its last match back to Albuquerque as the team hosts the annual Lobo Classic Tournament, where it will face three opponents — culminating in a matchup with the in-state rival Aggies.
New Mexico (1-2) had a rough start on the road, dropping its first two matches of the season at the Idaho Volleyball Classic — but grinded out a five-set victory over host school Idaho to salvage the weekend.
UNM assistant head coach Pauline Manser said the team has a very different look this year and there were a lot of adjustments made over what was a very competitive weekend.
She said they were disappointed to lost a close match against Grand Canyon, but acknowledged how well the 'Lopes played in the tournament. Manser also credited the Lobos for showing improvement with each match and winning a tightly contested battle on the road against Idaho.
"Last year we had a whole lot of five-setters that we lost," Manser said. "The returning group was really adamant that they weren't going to let that happen again this year."
Opening away from home can be tough, but now New Mexico will be able to shift the focus on protecting its home court against a field that includes Eastern Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast and New Mexico State.
Florida Gulf Coast (2-1) will enter the tournament on the heels of sweeping the University of Miami in three sets on Saturday — one of two sweeps the Eagles collected at the Sunshine State Challenge. Sophomore outside hitter Cortney VanLiew, a powerhouse for FGCU, already has 58 kills to her name this season — 20 of them coming in the most recent match against Miami.
The weekend was not kind to Eastern Kentucky (0-3) as the team walked away from the Penn State Invitational winless. To make matters worse, the Colonels were shutout in all three matches — getting swept by No. 6 Penn State, the United States Naval Academy and the University of Maryland - Baltimore County.
New Mexico State (2-1) competed in the Sun Devil Volleyball Classic last weekend, picking up victories over Pacific and UT Arlington — both of which were straight-set wins. But the Aggie team couldn’t keep the momentum and were victims of a sweep themselves, getting blanked 3-0 by the host school, Arizona State.
Many Lobo and Aggie fans will likely be fueled with the anticipation of seeing the two schools meet up in the Lobo Classic as the teams close out the tournament on Sept. 1, with a scheduled start time of 1 p.m.
UNM posted a 7-6 record at home last year, but seemed to pick up steam as the season progressed — winning three of its last four at Johnson Center. The Lobos are expected to be led offensively by junior Lauren Twitty, who has tallied 49 kills so far this season and recorded nine blocks as well.
Manser said she expected the Lobo squad to step out on Friday with confidence after their win against the Vandals and hopes the women are able to adapt when things switch up in the game.
The Lobo Classic will begin on Friday, Aug. 31 at 10:30 a.m., pitting the New Mexico State Aggies and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles against in other in the first of four matches on the slate.
The first game for the Lobos in the two-day Lobo Classic will take place on Friday, Aug. 31 at 12:45 p.m. against Eastern Kentucky, followed by a matchup later that day with Florida Gulf Coast at 7:30 p.m. and is scheduled to be played at Dreamstyle Arena.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers volleyball and track and field, but but also contributes content for football. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllyRael.