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Middle blocker Simone Henderson leaps for a kill against UNLV at Johnson Center on Saturday. The Lobos play the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno this Thursday.

Middle blocker Simone Henderson leaps for a kill against UNLV at Johnson Center on Saturday. The Lobos play the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno this Thursday.

Volleyball: New Mexico looks to mount MW standings on the road

After having found some consistency at home this week, New Mexico will go back on the road in hopes of climbing the Mountain West standings ladder.

The Lobos (11-9, 4-3 Mountain West) currently sit among the four teams in the conference with a winning record in MW play. Wyoming holds a half-game advantage with their 5-3 MW record (15-5 overall), and Boise State has a full game on UNM at 6-2 (14-6 overall).

Barring a collapse from conference powerhouse CSU (15-3, 8-0 MW), the Lobos will likely be fighting for a second place bid for the rest of the season.

Head coach Jeff Nelson said he likes his team’s chances to fight for a top spot in the conference after New Mexico seems to have found an identity on the court.

“We kind of settled in with using all three of our liberos. Everyone knows about the libero war,” Nelson said. “(Outside hitter) Ashley Kelsey played the libero position, and (defensive specialists) Mercedes Pacheco and Stephanie Chavez both subbed in the back row for our outside hitters.”

The Lobos look to build on the team’s successful 2-0 home stand this past week, highlighted by a new blocking scheme to throw teams off of settling in on one player.

This weekend, outside hitter Cassie House returned to her traditional position on the left side, but with a twist: She and fellow junior outside hitter Julia Warren would switch off between the right and left side, generating some confusion for both Fresno State (12-10, 4-4 MW) and UNLV (11-9, 4-4 MW).

House had 13 kills in Thursday’s 3-0 sweep over Fresno, and the Rio Rancho native hit her season-high 16 kills against UNLV on Saturday.

“We got some players back clicking that we needed,” Nelson said. “Cassie House had a big output this weekend, and finally she really picked up her game.”

House wasn’t the only Lobo to reap the benefits of UNM’s newly introduced blocking scheme. Middle blocker Skye Gullatt hit above .350 in both matches and found some success of her own on the defensive side of the ball.

“It’s a lot easier to play like that at home in front of the crowd,” Gullatt said. “Hopefully that can translate to the next two games on the road.”

The Lobos are going to be playing two squads in hopes of getting back into their winning habit.

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Nevada is currently seeded in eighth place under first-year head coach Lee Nelson. The Wolfpack (8-12, 3-5 MW) has a chance to climb to .500 in conference led by middle blocker Sam Willoughby, who leads the team in blocks.

“I’m looking to play smart (against Willoughby). That’s what’s given me success these past couple of games,” Gullatt said. “Hannah (Johnson) has been giving me really good looks. To capitalize on those opportunities she’s been giving me is what I’m looking to do this weekend.

However, the Lobos have their own dominant force on the block in Gullatt, whose 1.19 blocks per set put her among the top of the Mountain West as well.

Despite beating the Wolfpack 3-1 on September 26, UNM knows Nevada’s outside hitters can cause problems on the defensive side.

Right side hitter Madison Morell ranks third in the conference with 3.56 kills per set, while her left side teammate, Madison Foley, rounds out the top five with 3.23 kills per set.

“Blocking has been what’s holding this team together,” Gullatt said. “All-out defense where nothing hits the floor without two people next to the ball (is going to help stop the Nevada offensive attack).”

With the help of other teams in conference, Nelson feels that if his team can extend its winning streak, they have a real shot at leaping up in the standings as the Lobos near the halfway point in Mountain West play.

“Hopefully we can come back from the weekend in second place,” Nelson said.

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

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