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Volleyball: Lobos face another tough road in Borderland Invite

Life on the road has its disadvantages. Just ask the University of New Mexico volleyball team.

The Lobos are in Las Cruces this weekend to compete in the Borderland Invitational co-hosted by New Mexico State and UTEP. For a second straight week the schedule is not favorable.

UNM (1-2) opens with an early match Friday, taking on Texas A&M Corpus Christi (1-3) at 11 a.m. Things get tougher Saturday when the Lobos face Pacific (2-1) at 10 a.m. and New Mexico State (3-0) at 7 p.m. The nightcap will be the Aggies’ only match of the day as they finish the tournament Sunday against UTEP.

New Mexico faced a similar challenge last week at the Northern Colorado Classic. The Lobos defeated Rutgers in a morning match then dropped a five-setter to Grand Canyon later in the day. It was the ‘Lopes’ only match of the day and UNM appeared to wear down after winning the first two sets.

“We had a chance to win the third set against Grand Canyon,” said UNM coach Jon Newman-Gonchar, whose team led 22-21 in set three before falling. “Once it got to a fourth set I knew it would be tough.”

Fatigue combined with a bench shortened by injuries contributed to back-to-back five-set losses, but Newman-Gonchar saw plenty of silver linings to his team’s opening weekend. Among them were a strong performance by freshman outside hitter Kaitlyn Biassou and solid work by middle blockers Rachel Murphy and Yasmin Tan.

“I think we learned a lot last weekend,” Newman-Gonchar said. “We actually won more sets (seven) than we lost (six) and only gave up 12 more points than we scored. We just have to play a little cleaner.”

Attack percentage was the most notable problem for UNM, which posted a .177 average for the three matches with 64 hitting errors. Murphy said the opening weekend demonstrated that Lobos need to develop a counter punch or two.

“Once teams adapt to our offense,” she said, “we need to change things up. We talk about learning to use other tools in our tool kit and we need to keep working on that.”

UNM was without two of the tools in its kit at Northern Colorado. Graduate transfer setter Maddie Freiwald did play because of a foot injury and freshman outside hitter Uxue Guereca was sidelined by a shoulder injury. Freiwald is expected to play this weekend. Guereca, who played for her native Mexico’s national team over the summer, will take a medical redshirt season, Newman-Gonchar said.

“We’re in this for the long run and we’re trying to be at our best for Mountain West play,” Newman-Gonchar said. “Hopefully we can apply what we learned last week and take some positive steps in this tournament. It’s going to be another really good test.”

UNM has never faced Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which has beaten Houston and lost to Arizona State as part of a difficult early schedule. The Lobos are 0-7 all time against Pacific, which beat MWC foe San Jose State last week.

Still, Murphy said the Lobos are most looking forward to facing NMSU, which won the last two meetings against UNM and has not dropped a set this season. Coach Mike Jordan’s Aggies swept Butler, Auburn and Tennessee State last week at Auburn’s War Eagle Invitational. Middle blocker Megan Hart was named tournament MVP.

“New Mexico State’s playing really well,” Murphy said, “but we’re all looking forward to playing them. Every match is important but that’s a big one for both teams.”

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