An opportunity to get better or a chance to play in an electric postseason atmosphere?
Either way, New Mexico did not back down against the number one team in the nation in front of 4,473 fans, the fourth largest crowd in program history.
Though UNM couldn’t pull a set away from Nebraska, the Lobos showed a lot of poise in a 3-0 loss to No. 1 Nebraska (25-22, 25-20, 25-14) on Saturday night.
“This did nothing but make us better. I mean, we battled tough point-for-point in the first two games,” New Mexico head coach Jeff Nelson said. “We lost it a little in the middle of game three, but we served great and it’s something we’ve worked on big time.”
The large crowd was an enthusiastic one, and not just made up of Lobo fans. The white-out which was planned for the home crowd was combatted with a sea of red -- fans of the visiting Huskers.
“We came here because we wanted to play in the Pit, the famous building,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “I’ve seen other volleyball matches here and I know what the environment is like and we wanted to put our team in a tough road environment to get ready for our conference.”
Though Nelson said he was a little disappointed in the outcome, the opportunity to get better is what the UNM head coach said was the ultimate goal of inviting the defending national champions.
“We work hard to bring good teams in every year,” Nelson said. “We love playing those teams. Win or lose it does nothing but make us better and look what it did for our community tonight.”
The first two sets were a back-and-forth struggle, with New Mexico countering every shift that Nebraska was able to get ahold of, and not giving in. Senior outside hitter Cassie House stood out as the go-to player in the first pair of games swinging for an astounding .381 against a big Nebraska block.
“Nebraska is a big team and we knew they were going to be a really big challenge, so all of us together made the commitment to play lights out as best we could and leave it all on the floor,” House said. “That mentality for all of us going into the first two games was a big drive of the score and the stats of the first two games.”
At that point, House led all players with her 10 kills and set the pace for UNM’s .312 hitting percentage against the Huskers.
However, Nelson said House was unable to keep that stringent play up, and added that it’s hard for any player to remain at such a high-caliber level of play set after set.
After only committing two errors in the first two sets, House squandered four balls and UNM’s push to take away a set, which has only happened once all year against the undefeated Huskers (6-0), had dwindled.
However, Nelson said he is taking nothing but positivity from the weekend as a whole, as the Lobos will push through one more tournament before shifting gears to conference.
“It was an amazing tournament. Our staff, everybody did such a great job making it happen, and the crowd tonight was just so exciting,” Nelson said on Saturday night.
It wasn’t just New Mexico (6-3) that got what it wanted. Cook said Nebraska was just as pleased with the ambiance and the competitive match at WisePies arena.
“We got exactly what we wanted out of it tonight,” he said. “We had to play really hard, New Mexico is a great team and they really stressed us tonight.”
For House, she said the Lobos can build confidence in hanging with the best team in the country.
“It shows us the level that we’re capable of playing at,” House said. “It definitely showed us that we’re able to compete and were able to push those kind of teams.”
Seniors House and Julia Warren both received all-tournament bids for UNM, while senior outside hitter Andie Malloy and junior Kelly Hunter took all-tourney honors back to Nebraska.
First team All-American Kadie Rolfzen took home the tournament MVP award.
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Liam_CE.