With two starters on the New Mexico bench, the Lobos will look to steal a couple victories on the team’s trip to California.
UNM is coming off a split in its first two conference home games of the year, winning the opener 3-0 against Air Force on Sept. 22, and dropping a 3-2 series to Boise State on Saturday.
“Considering where we’re at, it wasn’t a bad weekend,” Nelson said. “We feel like we should’ve gotten both wins, but we’re playing down two starters.”
Freshman middle blocker J’Kaylee Clark will not be returning this season, having undergone knee surgery on Wednesday and senior outside hitter Julia Warren is listed as day-to-day with a minor MCL tear, according to Nelson.
Warren will not be required to undergo surgery, but Nelson said at Tuesday’s media luncheon that the team captain may not be available for any of the weekend matches.
Nelson said the team felt the absence of its outside hitter in the Boise State contest, both in her leadership and dynamic utility skills on the court.
“We’re still playing at a really high level,” Nelson said. “The Boise match went five sets, and we had opportunities to win it, but we weren’t consistent through the match. We do lack a little bit of the leadership that she provides.”
Even with Warren and Clark out, Nelson said he is confident in his bench and is asking some of the younger players to fill bigger roles.
“I said at the beginning of the year that it’s good to be deep,” Nelson said. “We’ve been able to maintain a pretty high level of play because of that.”
Freshman Lauren Twitty has been asked to fill the outside hitting role in Warren’s absence, and Nelson said she has done a good job doing so.
The head coach acknowledged that hesitancy and decision-making late in contests has been a weak area, something he attributes to growing pains. He said the early experience will only be beneficial for the freshmen.
“It’s a year where we have different things that we can do,” Nelson said. “Players are stepping up — they’ve just got to with these new lineups, just get a little more consistent.”
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The Lobos will take on San Jose State (7-7, 0-2 MW) in the first game of the weekend. Nelson said the Spartans are a tough team to prepare for because they don’t have a set lineup.
After Thursday night’s match against SJSU, the Lobos will travel down the road to Fresno, which has hit a bit of a skid after its red-hot start to the season.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 0-2 MW) have dropped its first two matches of conference play to Colorado State (3-1) and Wyoming (3-0).
“Fresno is kind of the surprise team right now,” Nelson said. “They’re playing really well. They’ll be tough on the road, they always are. That’s one we’ll have to work really hard to get.”
Nelson has said several times in the early stages of the year that the conference is equally matched, and that it will be a fight for anyone to separate themselves from the pack.
While a 2-0 road trip is what the Lobos (10-5, 1-1 MW) will be striving for, Nelson said wins on the road are going to be a commodity for any MW club this season.
“If you’re getting a split on the road and even getting win here and there on the road, it’s big right now because it’s so balanced,” Nelson said. “I think all but one team has winning records right now. It’s the best start we’ve ever had for the conference for all the teams collectively.”
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 email@example.com or on Twitter @Liam_CE.