The Lobos began the volleyball season in familiar fashion, sweeping their opponent in the opener on Thursday at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
Lobo women’s volleyball has not lost an opening game in the 11 years that Jeff Nelson has been the head coach, a release said.
That streak continued with their win against the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in three straight sets 25-21, 25-17 and 25-20.
With nine new freshmen players on the roster, many of the student-athletes may have felt they had something to prove to the head coach that placed his trust in them — and the new recruits delivered.
“With such a young group, there were some nerves and, certainly, we were concerned with how they would come out,” Nelson said. “We knew they could play good ball, and they did in the end."
The Lobos kept the momentum in their favor the next day as well, shutting out the Kent State Golden Flashes 25-23, 25-18 and 25-22.
However, the home field advantage ultimately proved too much for them to overcome, and the Lobos were finally stopped by the Iowa State Cyclones 25-19, 25-20 and 25-10.
The results of the opening matches brought New Mexico’s record to 2-1, a solid beginning to the new season.
A combination of great defense and aggressive offense fueled the Lobo’s first game victory. Ashley Kelsey, the team’s only senior, made 25 digs — the most digs by a player in a three-set match in the past four years. Mariessa Carrasco lead with five blocks, and Victoria Spragg contributed four more.
On the offensive side, sophomore Lauren Twitty knocked in 11 kills and 10 digs for a .321 hitting percentage, while freshmen Hailey Rubino logged six kills, 10 digs and two service aces.
Carrasco and Spragg, along with Carly Beddingfield, produced seven, five and four kills, respectively. Carson Heilborn provided a match-best 29 assists.
Nelson seemed to be pleased with the consistency of play and the contributions made by so many different players in the matches.
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“I thought we played really steady all the way through,” UNM head coach Jeff Nelson said. “I like that we’re getting output from a lot of different positions, particularly the middle.”
Twitty lead with 14 putaways, which tied her career high, along with eight digs and her first two career solo blocks against Kent State.
Carrasco, Spragg and Heilborn each added nine kills, while Rubino followed close behind with seven. Kelsey put in 14 digs, and Mercedes Pacheco tacked on nine more.
The final match against the Iowa State Cyclones proved the toughest for UNM, which didn’t have enough to escape the Cyclone Invitational unscathed.
“I thought we battled well in games one and two,” Nelson said. “I was a little disappointed that we took ourselves out of some points.”
The Lobos struggled offensively, only hitting .111 for the match compared to .376 for ISU. Bolstered by their 1,956 cheering fans and band, the Cyclones made only 10 errors, compared to 20 made by the Lobos.
“We have a young team, and we’ve got to learn how to handle that,” Nelson said. “Tonight’s a start, and hopefully we’ll get better.”
The Lobos played agianst the Cyclones competitively, tying things up 11 times throughout the three sets.
Rubino and Twitty each notched nine kills, while Spragg added seven kills and Carrasco made six. Heilborn put up 24 assists for UNM, and Pacheco logged seven digs — Kelsey added six of her own.
The Lobos will head to El Paso, Texas for the Glory Road Invitational on Sept. 1 and 2, where they will face Youngstown, North Dakota and UTEP.
Aaron Cowan is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AaronTCowan.