It’s tournament time for the UNM volleyball team – again.
After finishing the regular season 20-11 and clinching second place in the Mountain West Conference with a program-best 12 conference wins, the Lobos received one of 33 at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament, marking the ninth postseason appearance in program history and UNM’s second-straight tournament trip.
“I was in disbelief not seeing our name in the first 48 teams announced,” senior setter Jade Michaelsen said. “When the reporter said, ‘This is our last region,’ I was sweating and I could feel a pit in my stomach. ... I read from the bottom of the screen, and just went crazy.”
The Lobos’ high Ratings Percentage Index, regional ranking and strength of schedule should have made the team almost a shoo-in, but that didn’t temper the last-minute jitters and nerves.
UNM will go toe-to-toe with sixth-seeded Southern California on Friday in Los Angeles in the first round. If the Lobos can pull off the upset, they will face the winner of San Diego and Long Beach State in the second round Saturday.
UNM faced USC earlier in the season and played terrifically against the Trojans despite being swept in three games.
The Lobos lost each game by no more than four points (25-19, 25-19, 25-20).
However, UNM is no stranger to facing ranked opponents this season. The Lobos have faced No. 3 Hawaii, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Southern California and No. 14 Colorado State. UNM swept CSU 3-0 at home Nov. 11.
“We know we can compete against the best of teams,” said senior middle blocker Taylor Hadfield. “The main thing will be for us to play our hearts out. We need to leave everything out on the court. No regrets.”
The Lobos will have three practices this week before heading to the tournament.
“We’re a team that works really hard in practice,” Michaelsen said. “If we can get three days of really strong practices in and translate that to the match, we can out-work just about anyone.”
UNM will rely on its three seniors: Hadfield, Michaelsen and senior outside hitter Lisa Meeter.
Michaelsen said the NCAA bid is only the beginning for UNM volleyball.
“This is where UNM should be,” she said. “We’re happy to be in. But we’re in for a reason, and that’s to win.”
*Volleyball at USC
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