Are on the Rise
Finally, this Rio Grande Rivalry has some teeth.
For one of the few times in both programs’ history, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State volleyball teams are a match for each other. Fans at Johnson Center received proof Tuesday night, when the Lobos rallied for an entertaining five-set win over the Aggies.
Afterward, players and coaches from both squads were talking about the benefits of the hard-fought match.
“We’ve gotten to where both teams respect each other and really go after one another,” Lobo coach Jeff Nelson said. “It’s an important regional match and a good win for us. It’s good, quality volleyball.”
Fans have taken notice, too. Tuesday’s match attracted 2,252 and kept UNM’s average attendance over 2,100 and among the top 10 nationally. New Mexico State has averaged 1,898 fans per home match, which ranks 13th.
Aggies coach Mike Jordan, now in his 13th season, is delighted to see both programs on the rise.
“This is what this rivalry should be like,” Jordan said. “And the best part is, it’s not two mediocre teams with a good rivalry. It’s two good teams playing a great match.”
Such has not always been the case. From 1988 to ’98, UNM won nine straight from New Mexico State in three sets.
The Aggies, who lead the all-time series, got more than even by dominating from 1999 to 2008. In that span NMSU won 13 of 14 matches from the Lobos.
The one-sided nature of the series even made home-and-home matches prohibitive. The better team’s RPI suffered from playing the lesser team twice.
As a result, the Lobos and Aggies have met just once during each of the past four seasons. But with both programs at higher levels, two meetings a year could soon be worthwhile.
“We definitely look forward to playing (the Aggies),” Lobo junior Kelly Williamson said. “They are our rivals and there’s something extra in the atmosphere. I definitely wouldn’t mind (playing twice a season).”
HITTING THE ROAD: The Lobos and Aggies are competing in tournaments this weekend. UNM is Tampa, Fla., for the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational, while NMSU is at the Arizona Invitational.
With conference play looming, both teams are in need of record-building wins. New Mexico (5-5) has only Mountain West Conference matches remaining after this weekend.
“It’s important for us to build some momentum,” Nelson said. “Hopefully, the New Mexico State match will jump-start us.”
The Lobos face host South Florida (3-5) today, then meet Florida Atlantic (6-5) and Jacksonville (4-6) on Saturday.
New Mexico State (6-4) will play twice today in Tucson. The Aggies meet Pepperdine (6-4) in a morning match, then take on Texas State (6-5) at 6 p.m. NMSU meets host Arizona (7-2) on Saturday.