The University of New Mexico volleyball team started play in an exhibition game against the New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys on Saturday, Aug. 20. The team won 4-0, showcasing a dominant performance that demonstrates potential for the season ahead.
The Cowboys are a Division II volleyball team and finished the 2021 season with a record of 11-18 and ninth in their conference. They lost last season’s leading scorer Lisi Langi, who transferred to Lewis-Clark State.
The Cowboys scored the first five points of the set with UNM hitting the ball out of bounds multiple times. The Lobos rallied back behind an Elizabeth Woods spike which triggered a 7-2 scoring streak, bringing the total score to 6-8. Highland’s spike from Keegan Lopez then led to a 4-2 run for the Cowboys.
After a misplaced spike from the Cowboys, UNM rallied to tie the game 12-12. UNM’s Alena Moldan served out of bounds and the Cowboys were down 17-15. After a run by UNM, the team was up by 5 and ultimately won the first set, 25-19.
UNM scored the first point of the second set off a well-timed block and continued on a scoring barrage, making the game 8-3. NMHU subbed in Jontara West for Meranda Romero and went for a run, cutting UNM’s lead down to 11-9.
UNM responded to the pressure behind Uxue Guereca’s serves, pushing their lead and bringing the score to 14-9. With Moldan on the serve as well, UNM forced the Cowboys to use a timeout with UNM up 18-11. NMHU subbed in Abby Carlsen for Mya Sullivan while down 21-12. UNM dominated the set, winning 25-15 and putting them up 2-0 for the match.
NMHU’s Soleil Gandara serve started the third set, but UNM scored the first three points. Highlands fought back, however, cutting the lead down to 6-5.
UNM showed resilience and dominance by maintaining their lead. Avital Jaloba was subbed in for Woods with the Lobos up 13-10. UNM went on a 5-1 run with an impressive ace by Kaitlynn Biassou. Highlands called a timeout, being down 18-11.
After three straight points, Lea Zurlinden was subbed in for Jaloba, going with a shorter lineup for the rest of the set. Lauryn Payne was also subbed in for Guereca to finish out the set. Payne served the rest of the set with UNM winning 25-12 and being up 3-0.
UNM’s Melissa Walden started the fourth set, serving out of bounds. Kailee Gims was subbed in for Woods, going for a shorter lineup with the Lobos up 3-2. NMHU’s Terayah Stukes served well, putting the Cowboys up 9-6. UNM fought with Kali Wolf serving and a Zurlinden spike, putting them down by 1. Woods was subbed back in for Gims, going back to a taller lineup.
UNM took back the lead 12-11 and went on a 4-1 run, with Highlands calling a timeout down 16-12. Out of the timeout, Guereca served an ace. Hooks started serving, but the Lobos gained possession being up 20-14. UNM dominated the end of the set being up 25-15 and won all four sets they played.
Head coach Jon Newman-Gonchar was very happy with his team’s performance, highlighting the new talent on the team.
“Today was about indoctrination. We got six brand new players and we’re indoctrinating them into the Lobo system … teaching a lot of new skills, teaching a lot of new systems,” Newman-Gonchar said.
When asked about switching between taller and shorter lineups, Newman-Gonchar said it was both about a bit of experimentation and giving players rest.
“It was nice to know we can put a couple different lineups out there,” Newman-Gonchar said.
After the game, Molden spoke about the culture on the team and how their new players have assimilated.
“One thing we talk about a lot is what we want in our culture. It’s something we spend a lot of time on, and I think the people that have come in have really adopted that as their own,” Molden said.
The Lobos play next against California State University, Fullerton on Aug. 26 at The Pit to start off the Lobo Invitational.
Thomas Bulger is the Sport Editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thomasbulger10