The Lobos certainly weren’t in midseason conference form, but the squad didn’t have to be.
New Mexico came out in a 3-0 sweep over Air Force on Thursday night, while team captain Julia Warren watched from the bench with a big black brace on her right knee.
One thing head coach Jeff Nelson said he noticed from at the start was that UNM’s passing game took a while to get adjusted without the utility presence of Warren.
“Our big question mark with that match was Julia is day-to-day, and we chose to hold her out and how would the passing be and the leadership be on the court,” Nelson said. “Devanne (Sours) and (Ashley Kelsey) did well with the leadership, and Julia did a lot of screaming from the sidelines.”
Neither team came out with a vengeance offensively in the first game, both hitting under .200. However, UNM did get the best of the Falcons (9-5, 0-1 MW) with a 25-19 victory in the first match.
With a bit of momentum on their side, the Lobos really hit their stride in the second set behind the hard-swinging right arm of senior outside hitter Cassie House.
House took over the second game with five kills on 11 attempts, with no errors. She would later wind up with a the team-high 13 kills and a game-high of 15.5 points, collecting two aces and half a block.
“We definitely wanted to come out with conference strong, no matter who we played at home,” House said. “Air Force is a good team and we wanted to get some momentum with them.”
Behind House, the Lobos jumped out in front to a 6-1 lead, never giving up the lead once. New Mexico easily cruised past Air Force by a 25-15 count in the second game.
Nelson was not pleased with the third set, however. The head coach said he understood the slow start, getting acclimated to the court without one of the team’s best players, but the Lobos couldn’t seem to close the game down.
True freshman Lauren Twitty saw an expanded role in the conference opener, but also struggled from the outside hitting position.
“I thought she was a little bit nervous, but I didn’t think she got great looks with the ball either,” Nelson said. “Both Lauren and Cassie a few times, seeing the smaller block in front of them, chose to hit down. Scouting and what we practiced, we really wanted to go high and fast for the corners.”
The game plan going into the contest was to hit high and above the block, but Twitty and House struggled sticking with the strategy, trying to overpower the smaller block before them.
Towards the end of the set, the Lobos had a commanding 20-10 lead, but they let the Falcons stick around as Air Force went on a four-point run while UNM was standing on match point.
Finally, Air Force wound up making a mistake, ending the match by a 25-20 margin.
“I thought we played a really good match until that last point and we needed to take care of business,” Nelson said. “Cassie had a great matchup and she obviously had a lot of kills in the match, but took way too many swings.”
New Mexico will certainly have to tighten things up before Boise State comes to play at Johnson Center Gym. Nelson said in an interview on Wednesday he believes the Bulldogs will be on the hunt for a conference title before the season is over.
“Boise is a really good team this year. They’ve got a lot of weapons,” House said. “We’re just ready to come out swinging high and hard, and we hope to put some pressure on them and come out firing.”
First serve is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. in Johnson Center.
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