The University of New Mexico Lobos did not earn passing grades in volleyball 101 Thursday night.
According to coach Jeff Nelson, the Lobos did not follow the game plan in a 3-1 loss to San Diego State at Johnson Center. Instead of playing to its own strengths, UNM too often helped out the Aztecs, who walked away with a 20-25, 25-23, 25-16, 27-25 victory.
Outside hitter Alexis Cage and libero Devyn Pritchard had monster performances for SDSU (9-11, 3-4 Mountain West). Cage racked up 21 kills, 15 digs and hit a tidy .362 for the Aztecs, converting key points whenever her team seemed to need them. Pritchard, meanwhile, had a match-high 29 digs.
Nelson credited Cage and Pritchard but felt his own team played a role in their success.
“We told our hitters not to go middle-back (where Pritchard lined up on defense),” Nelson said, “and they went there over and over. Our first two shots of the night went right to (Pritchard) and we never stopped.”
As for the 6-foot-2 Cage, “At some point our right-side defense has to step up and block her,” Nelson said. “Didn’t happen tonight.”
It was simply a frustrating outing for the Lobos (10-9, 2-5), who lost for the fourth time in five matches. UNM had its chances to earn a different outcome in sets 2 and 4, but was unable to come up with key points when it needed them.
The final set was particularly tough to take as the Lobos fought off a match point at 24-23 on a Victoria Spragg kill. UNM then cashed in on an Aztecs error to take a 25-24 lead but couldn’t finish off the win. Yasmin Tan was stuffed hitting into a double-block to give the Aztecs a 26-25 lead, and the Lobos couldn’t come up with a loose ball at the net on the clinching point.
Tan finished with six kills and was UNM’s most effective hitter with a .545 percentage. Mariessa Carrasco led the Lobos with seven kills but hit .238, while Lauren Twitty managed just six kills and hit negative .040.
“That’s the fifth match in a row Lauren’s hit zero or negative,” Nelson said. “She’s one of our leaders and we don’t have a lot of alternatives on the outside. She’s got to be more productive and our setter (Carson Heilborn) has to make the offense better. We’re making it way too easy on people right now.”
Youth could be part of the problem. With nine freshmen on the roster, UNM is the fifth-youngest squad in Division I this season.
But Nelson said his on-court rotation could get even younger for Saturday’s “Lobos Love Pink” match against Fresno State.
“We’ve got to stop excusing ourselves for being young and do a better job sticking to the game plan,” he said. “We need to shake some things up for Saturday and I’m leaning toward playing the freshmen more. Our last couple outings just haven’t been good enough.”
PROMISING IN PINK: The Lobos will don pink jerseys for Saturday’s 2 p.m. match in support of breast cancer awareness. Gift baskets and other prizes will be raffled off or available through silent auction with proceeds to benefit the UNM Cancer Center.
It will be UNM’s 10th annual “pink” match and the Lobos have fared well in the past nine. They’re 8-1 wearing pink jerseys at home, with the lone loss coming to Wyoming in 2014.