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Play during summer helps Lobos eye talent

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Who says offseason volleyball matches don’t count?

Samantha Sofka used an impressive performance at last summer’s University of New Mexico team camp as an effective springboard. Now the former Piedra Vista Panther is preparing to play home matches at Johnson Center.

SOFKA: Piedra Vista grad to be a walk-on

SOFKA: Piedra Vista grad to be a walk-on

The 5-foot-7 Sofka, who was named Class 4A Player of the Year as a senior outside hitter in 2013, will join the Lobos as a defensive specialist this fall. It likely wouldn’t have happened but for last summer’s UNM team camp.

“Our team took first place and I got picked as MVP,” Sofka said. “(UNM assistant Lisa Beauchene) talked to me after the camp, and that’s when the coaching staff really started following me. Things just came together from there.”

Except for an accelerated timeline, Mercedes Pacheco followed a similar path to Johnson Center. Pacheco, who will be a senior at St. Pius this season, received an email from UNM’s coaches after her club team won a juniors tournament last offseason.

Already a two-time Class 4A All-State selection at libero, the 5-foot-3 Pacheco had attracted interest from college programs in Texas, Ohio, New York and Montana. But after weighing her options, Pacheco committed to UNM.

“It just seemed like the best offer,” Pacheco said. “I like the coaches a lot, the crowds have a lot of energy, and I can play close to home. I’m excited to be part of the Lobo family.”

PACHECO: To be a senior at St. Pius this fall

PACHECO: To be a senior at St. Pius this fall

The additions of Sofka and Pacheco will help shore up UNM’s back-row defense, arguably the lone thin area on coach Jeff Nelson’s roster. All-Mountain West libero Miquella Lovato graduated in 2013, leaving sophomore Maddie Mayfield as the only experienced defensive specialist.

Playing solely back row will be a transition for Sofka, who played all six rotations in helping Piedra Vista to consecutive state runner-up finishes.

“They have some different techniques (at UNM) in terms of passing and court coverage,” Sofka said, “but I can still hit from the back row. I’ll get my share of swings.”

Nelson confirmed UNM is recruiting Sofka and Pacheco, but NCAA rules prohibit further comment on unsigned players. Because Sofka will join the Lobos as a walk-on, those rules apply until fall classes begin. Pacheco cannot officially sign until November.

NATIONAL EXPERIENCE: Senior Chantale Riddle and sophomore Cassie House recently competed with the U.S. Collegiate National Team in Minneapolis. They were among 36 players selected for the team and came back energized by the experience.

“It was extremely competitive,” said Riddle, who was making her third national team appearance. “You’re playing with some of the best players in the nation, and we all wanted to make a good impression.”

Players were rotated between teams and competed head-to-head through the 10-day session. Riddle ended up logging more court time than any other player and raised her intensity level when facing House’s teams.

“I couldn’t let Cassie beat me,” Riddle said with a smile. “I never would’ve heard the end of that.”

House and fellow sophomore Julia Warren are in Croatia this week competing with a Mountain West All-Star team in the Bring It Promotions Global Challenge. Junior setter Hannah Johnson also is competing internationally this month.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Lobos report to practice Aug. 6 and open the regular season Aug. 29-30 with home matches against Texas, Seattle and UTEP at the Lobo Invitational. Single-match tickets are on sale at the Lobo Ticket Office at the Pit.

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