The opportunity was there, but a sluggish start and a stumble at the finish cost UNM a perfect start to the Mountain West.
New Mexico’s start to what would become a 3-2 loss to Boise State on Saturday was not how head coach Jeff Nelson drew it up in the pregame, and it took the Lobos an entire game to get going.
“We came out in game one and didn’t follow a gameplan,” Nelson said. “We got back on the gameplan in game two and had a lot of success.”
The Lobos came out of the gates with little energy, as team captain Julia Warren remained on the sideline for a second straight night. UNM’s passing was not crisp, which Boise State (10-5, 1-1 MW) was able to exploit en route to a 25-14 win.
Then, as the teams switched sides, so did their play. UNM was able to out-serve, out-hit and out-play the Broncos, who committed nine errors in a 25-17 set that went to New Mexico.
After intermission, the Lobos didn’t miss a beat, while Boise State continued to struggle with errors and New Mexico’s offense exploded behind senior outside hitter Cassie House. House recorded five of her team-high 18 kills in the third set, leading UNM to a .371 hitting percentage and a 25-19 victory to go up two sets to one in the match.
The Lobos’ offense didn’t wither in the first set, but the shaky defensive effort cost UNM the fourth game and possibly the match.
This time it was senior outside hitter Devanne Sours who set the pace for UNM offensively. She collected five of her 16 kills in the fourth game, and the Lobos hit a remarkable .371. The team as a whole only committed two hitting errors in the set, besting Boise State’s .323 average and five errors.
However, even after out-hitting Boise and making fewer offensive mistakes, the Lobos lost the start of the volleys. New Mexico recorded five receiving errors and two service errors, something Nelson said he has been trying to address all year.
“We’ve got to be a little tougher,” Nelson said. “I was really disappointed in both Maddie (Mayfield) and Mercedes (Pacheco) (with their) transitions in.”
He said the two were not playing with confidence, and the defensive specialists’ hesitation when their number in the rotation was called provided major issues when the Lobos were trying to side out.
“Once they got in, they were fine. But the first ball or two, they were playing very nervous,” Nelson said. “Our message all the time is do something positive, add something to the court and that’s pretty much an ongoing message throughout the season.”
Even with all of the errors from serve/receive, UNM battled to keep the game close.
Towards the end of the match, New Mexico fueled a comeback while trailing 22-18 in the late stages.
After four unanswered points, UNM was right back in control, poised to take home a tough conference victory. However, while standing on match point, the Lobos couldn’t manage to put the Broncos away.
Leaving Boise State lingering in the wings was a mistake for UNM, who would drop the next three points, and eventually the match 26-24.
The Lobos would never recover.
New Mexico regressed in the fifth and final set, and Boise State jumped out to a commanding 7-2 lead and never looked back.
UNM tried to cut the deficit with a late run, but the shortened fifth set was too much to overcome as Boise State took the deciding game 15-8.
“I think it would have helped a lot having Julia, because then we would have gotten out in four,” Nelson said. “But you know, she’s out. I was actually pretty happy with the way we stepped up and played ball as a team.”
Warren is still listed as day-to-day, but New Mexico (10-5, 1-1 MW) hopes to have its senior leader on the court instead of cheering from the sidelines as the squad heads to California to take on San Jose State on Thursday.
First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT.
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.