The University of New Mexico volleyball team won their first two conference matches 3-0 at home, the first against the United States Air Force Academy on Sept. 21 and the second against California State University, Fresno on Sept. 23.
The first sets of both matches were the closest as the Lobos went 25-20 against Air Force and 26-24 against Fresno State. UNM managed to beat both of their opponents in every single basic statistic except one (UNM lost digs against Air Force 29-30). UNM was ruthlessly efficient against Air Force with a 0.453 kill percentage, and they just flat-out beat Fresno State across the board.
Outside hitters Kaitlynn Biassou and Uxue Guereca led the Lobos’ attack in both matches, pummelling a combined 27 kills against Air Force and 21 kills against Fresno State. They also showed their versatility in the match against Fresno State, recording 19 digs between them.
UNM sophomore middle blocker Emma Smith replaced the missing Elizabeth Woods in the starting lineup for both matches. Until the match against Air Force, Smith had not been a first set starter, but she briefly played throughout the matches. With a 0.286 attack percentage against Fresno State and a team-leading 5 total blocks in each of the matches, Smith made her presence known. It was not specified why Woods was not able to play in either match.
“All I can say right now (is) it’s for safety reasons,” head coach Jon Newman-Gonchar said. “(We want to) make sure our team is safe and she’s safe. She’ll be back with us in no time.”
Even coming in without much starting experience, Newman-Gonchar felt that Smith played well.
“We’re really proud of her,” Newman-Gonchar said. “It’s not easy being kind of a backup when you work your butt off every day and not seeing as much court as you want to.”
Sophomore setter Melissa Walden stood out throughout the sets against Fresno State with her incredible 28 assists and strategic setter dumps. According to Newman-Gonchar, Walden always strives to have the team ready and going. Walden claimed a total of 4 kills and 10 digs against Fresno State.
Against both teams, the Lobos opted to wear face masks throughout the entirety of the matches, unlike the other teams. Newman-Gonchar said it’s a “team-by-team” decision and that the athletics department is just trying to keep everybody safe. While this decision has so far proven to be physically challenging, it wasn’t enough to stop the volleyball team from claiming the two wins.
“It’s a pretty big disadvantage that we wore masks,” Newman-Gonchar said. “It doesn’t feel great. But they nailed it. But right now this is where we’re at ... We gotta keep the pack safe.”
Annya Loya is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annyaloya
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy