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Outside hitter/middle blocker Cassie House leaps for a kill against UNLV on Saturday at Johnson Center. The Lobos defeated the Rebels 3-1.

Outside hitter/middle blocker Cassie House leaps for a kill against UNLV on Saturday at Johnson Center. The Lobos defeated the Rebels 3-1.

Volleyball: Defensive changes pay off in Lobos' win over UNLV

Head Coach Jeff Nelson’s newly added zone blocking scheme has rejuvenated New Mexico’s defensive muscle, translating to a jumpstart in the Lobos’ offense.

For the first time since Oct. 6, 2011, the Lobos garnered a home victory over the UNLV Rebels. Coming into Saturday’s 3-1 victory, New Mexico had a 1-5 record for the previous six meetings between the clubs.

Nelson changed UNM’s fortunes by implementing a defensive scheme that made the Lobos less predictable, he said.

“Last year they got us twice, so we got them back finally, and they’re a great team,” Nelson said. “They’re really well-coached, and Bree Hammel is as good of a middle (blocker) as there is in the league. We’re excited when we can get a win against outstanding players like that.”

Chaos, confusion and mismatches allowed the Lobos to throw a block party in the first set, batting six balls down at the net to UNLV’s one. UNM (11-9, 4-3 MW) held the Rebels to just a .083 hitting percentage in the first set while the squad was able to blow past UNLV’s defense for a .323 percentage.

However, UNLV adjusted to the newly adapted scheme and came out victorious in the second set 25-22, the only set the squad won. Intermission served the Lobos well, facilitating two consecutive wins.

“I honestly think our team just played lights-out this afternoon,” outside hitter Cassie House said. “We have been working so hard in practice, and we have just preached about intensity, intensity, intensity, and pursuing balls and giving everything.”

Although all four sets were close, the Lobo defense certainly played tight, which was encouraging for the Lobos who have been in search of a consistent lineup.

“I think it feels really comfortable. Everyone has really good energy, and even the transitions of subs coming in and out ... are smooth,” House said. “Hopefully this is our lineup, and hopefully we take this a long way.”

Inconsistency has been a major theme for the Lobos while Nelson has given many different looks to many different lineups. However, if the Lobos’ new blocking scheme’s success is any indication of things to come, it’s hard to think he will stray too far from what is working.

The middle block has been particularly successful in the past two games with New Mexico’s new defensive strategy. Middle blocker Skye Gullatt said the change has opened up a wide array of shots for the middles, giving both herself and Simone Henderson more room to work with.

“The transition work has been really what has been getting us,” Gullatt said. “Hannah (Johnson) has been forcing it to us from five to ten feet off the net, and it opens up the block, spreads everything out and gets the offense a little more smooth.”

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The new scheme keeps the opposing defense honest. Without knowing where big blockers Cassie House or Julia Warren are, the defense can no longer sit on the middle attack, spreading opponents out at the net.

“I think our lineup is good here,” Gullatt said. “I think it’s working for us.”

Whether or not the Lobos found the right key to their lineup, Nelson said he is obviously going to stick with what’s working.

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


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