UNM started the first set with a powerful kill from outside hitter Kali Wolf. The Lobos continued the assault, going up 7-1 before CSU was forced to call a time-out. The Rams managed to get their offense together but continued to have service errors and couldn’t dent the lead, calling another timeout at 18-11.
Outside hitters and middle blockers Uxue Guereca, Avital Jaloba, Elizabeth Woods and Kaitlynn Biassou all combined to form a virtual cherry-and-silver wall at the net as they refused to allow any easy spikes for CSU. In typical fashion, Biassou ended the first set with two thunderous kills as UNM took set one 25-16.
CSU made a comeback to start the second set and were 8-3 at one point, mostly due to errors by UNM. UNM quickly corrected course, tying the score at 9-9 and then again at 10-10 and 11-11. Outside hitter Kassie McGill contributed desperately needed blocking when Biassou and Woods both went out, and UNM went up 13-11 before CSU used their first timeout of the set. UNM kept their lead until the score was 19-15, when a won challenge gave CSU momentum. UNM called their first timeout at 22-19 to collect themselves before a tight finish to the set. The two teams traded scores until UNM won 25-22 off of a CSU service error.
In the next set, CSU managed to adjust to the Lobos’ large blockers, sending cross-court volleys that would then be sent lofting high across the net, but UNM was able to dig well enough to counter. At 8-6, CSU called a timeout. CSU managed to take a one point lead 8-9, and then again a few minutes later 10-11, but neither lead lasted a volley before the Lobos tied it. The score stayed within two points until the Lobos pushed it to 15-12, at which point CSU called another timeout.
CSU managed to make headway, tying the score at 16-16 and forcing UNM head coach Jon Newman-Gonchar to call a timeout. From then on, CSU caught fire, going ahead 20-22. Newman-Gonchar challenged a net call and won, tying the game at 21-21 with UNM on the serve.
CSU won the next point off of an outside hit by UNM. The Lobos set Biassou twice, but she was unable to kill it; UNM still won another point off of a block. CSU won the next point off of a powerful kill and the point after off of an error by UNM, making the score 22-24. UNM called a timeout, but CSU ultimately took the set 22-25.
A demoralizing loss could have set the stage for a dramatic comeback for CSU, but Newman-Gonchar said he made sure to remind his team why they were up 2-1 before the last set.
CSU took an initial lead to start the fourth set, but UNM managed to get themselves ahead 7-5 before CSU called a timeout. Afterward, two CSU service errors kept UNM ahead by two points before they pushed ahead even further. CSU called a challenge about whether one of their attempted kills was in or out, which they lost, preserving UNM’s 11-7 lead.
The Lobos then went on a scoring spree, increasing their lead to seven and, at 16-9, CSU needed another timeout. However, UNM was not to be denied at this point and managed to cruise to another set win 25-14.
This match might have been UNM’s best defensive performance this season, with 10 players recording at least one dig and the team overall serving 11 blocks total. UNM needed the strong defensive play to separate themselves as they only had one more kill than CSU for the entire match. The Rams didn’t do themselves any favors with 16 service errors.
Newman-Gonchar said this win can be a season-changing moment for the Lobos and that they realized that they can beat any team that they play if they successfully meet their own standards.
“That’s a big moment. It’s a big moment to understand that we can go battle with anybody in this league and not feel backed down or intimidated by somebody’s record or somebody’s big hitter or somebody’s great server,” Newman-Gonchar said.
UNM remains fourth in the conference after the win and has six matches left to improve on that. They head out on a road trip next week to face Boise State University on Thursday, Nov. 4 and then go to play No. 2 in the conference Utah State University on Saturday, Nov. 6.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy