The New Mexico volleyball team finally gets to relax, eat some green chile and play in front of their fans at Johnson Center.
Well, that may not be entirely true.
The Lobos just returned from a 3-2 loss at San Diego State as part of the team’s 1-1 split on the road. After returning to the Land of Enchantment on Sunday, the Lobos must turn around and play their only Tuesday night match of the season against Air Force.
“It’s weird because we’re used to playing at the end of the week, but it’s nice to have a Tuesday night game,” setter Hannah Johnson said. “I think we can play any day of the week and still be competitive.”
Johnson said her squad is still moving in the right direction, despite dropping the final three sets in San Diego. SDSU (7-16, 4-6 MW) came out of intermission looking like a completely different team.
Part of the reason they looked so different, according to UNM head coach Jeff Nelson, was because San Diego State came out of the locker room with a completely jumbled lineup. Nelson said his team couldn’t recover from the shakeup.
However, despite the new look from the Aztecs, Nelson said that is no reason to look past what the team is doing right now.
“We’ve got the two bad losses against San Diego (State). They just seem to be our nemesis,” Nelson said. “Other than that, we’re beating the better teams in the conference.”
UNM’s four-game home stand will be a true test of how the team will fair in the standings in the upcoming weeks. Just 3 1/2 games separate second place and 10th place at the halfway point in conference, which is an immense amount of time.
New Mexico is currently placed fifth, right in the middle of the teams within that 3 1/2-game margin. However, Johnson said she is not viewing the tight Mountain West race as a possibility her squad might slide. She wants to claim one of the top spots in the conference.
“Even though we had a little hiccup against San Diego State, we’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “…Our goal is to get first place, obviously, but we’re definitely shooting for second place. We know that we can do it.”
Johnson said one of the things that has given her team more confidence is the fact that Nelson is no longer playing musical chairs with the roster. She said the consistency in the lineup is translating into more team unity.
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While Nelson is currently pleased with the play of his squad, which has stopped his passing of the libero jersey like a hot potato, the coach said he still needs production out of some key spots.
“I do think we have a much better lineup,” Nelson said. “I still don’t think we have things going the way that they should.”
Nelson said the defensive specialist spot, while improved, still needs work. He said the improvement from Cassie House, the hard-hitting outside hitter, has provided some positives, but said he needs to get more offensive production from Devanne Sours, the team leader in kills.
“We’ve got kids that are extremely physical. We don’t look at any of the teams we play and go, ‘oh, they’re more athletic than us,’” Nelson said. “They might have better volleyball IQs or have trained longer, but athletically we can match them. That’s where we have to get up and have the output.”
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Liam_CE.