Fort Collins, Colorado has not been hospitable to the visiting New Mexico volleyball team.
Colorado State has had UNM’s number under head coach Jeff Nelson, who has never garnered a win on the road against the Rams. Since taking over as head coach in 2007, Nelson has only beaten CSU twice out of 16 matches against the Rams.
The last time New Mexico beat Colorado State was on September 20, 2012, at home. However, the Lobos have not beaten CSU on the road under head coach Jeff Nelson: The last time UNM beat the Rams in Fort Collins, Colorado was on October 7, 1994.
The Lobos are looking to turn their misfortunes around in a tough environment, on the road, and against the team ranked 21st in the country. The Rams are no newcomers to the AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll, having been named among the nation’s 25 best for 36 consecutive weeks.
“They’re playing good ball. I mean, they always play good ball,” Nelson said. “I don’t think they’re as dominant as they were last year, but I think they’re really good, and they have great leadership from (Adrianna) Culbert.”
Colorado State’s Culbert is going to be a focal point for Nelson: Culbert is a dynamic right side/outside hitter with the potential to change the pace of the game. Not only does Culbert put balls away, averaging 2.97 kills per set, but she creates offense for her teammates, putting up 5.18 assists per set, ranking in the top two on her squad for both major offensive categories.
“We’ve got to really take Culbert out of the match in terms of the offensive side of things,” Nelson said. “She’s going to do her things with defense, but I think, playing at 6-2, she sets and then she hits, and there’s a lot more responsibility.”
Venturing to a hostile environment and facing the conference’s preseason pick to win player of the year would be intimidating for most. Lobo setter Hannah Johnson said she welcomes the challenge and is excited to play in Fort Collins for the final time in her career, partly because of the ambiance surrounding the volleyball community.
“At CSU, it’s a really neat atmosphere,” Johnson said. “They pretty much pack their arena. It’s really loud ... I think everyone playing has experience playing at CSU. They know the atmosphere of what it will be and kind of what is at stake.”
Nelson said the environment is a thrilling place to play. However, the coach said the 3,000 to 4,000 fans who attend the game aren’t as much of a factor during matches because the larger arena doesn’t allow fans to be up close and in the game.
Following a 3-0 sweep at San Jose State on Saturday, UNM’s emotions are riding high. Johnson said the team is slowly starting to form an identity and play up to its potential.
Johnson said the Lobos match up well with the Rams, and UNM’s offense must concern itself with keeping the ball on CSU’s side of the net. She said players must not go for the kill every play, which will eventually lead to Colorado State errors.
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However, even though the Lobos have several high-profile players, the team has not labeled a starting libero yet, as the squad has struggled with three different women at the spot.
“What we figured out is that we have two lineups, and in matches we have to play two lineups a lot,” Nelson said. “I think that there’s four kids who can play that position.”
Although Nelson has the opportunity to play four different players, continuity and rapport are often valuable traits from the position, which has yet to be shown from his libero group.
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.