It would have been easy to throw in the towel.
With only seven semi-healthy players in uniform, the University of New Mexico volleyball team was on the ropes Saturday at the Pit. Already down 2 sets to 1, the Lobos trailed visiting Utah State 20-10 in the fourth, and their abbreviated spring season appeared to be all but over.
UNM had a different ending in mind.
Kaitlynn Biassou racked up a career-best 25 kills, and the Lobos rallied for a dramatic five-set win in their spring finale. The set scores were 25-21, 18-25, 15-25, 26-24 and 15-11.
As it turned out, UNM coach Jon Newman-Gonchar needed the aforementioned towel after a soggy postgame celebration in the fan-free arena.
“That was a special moment,” Newman-Gonchar said. “If these players want to throw water on their coach after a match like that, so be it. With everything they’ve gone through this year, I’m thrilled they got to enjoy that kind of finish.”
Biassou played the starring role, contributing 11 total digs and four straight sizzling serves as the Lobos finished set five with a 5-0 run. But she got plenty of help from a makeshift UNM lineup that included four freshmen and several players out of their normal positions.
Thanks to numerous injuries, the Lobos had eight players reduced to cheerleading for the last of their two home matches of the season. UNM started 5-foot-7 Alena Moldan and 5-9 Los Lunas High alum Hayley Torres as middle blockers against USU’s much taller front line.
Nonetheless, after being soundly beaten in set three and facing a big deficit in set four, UNM (4-10) found a way. Utah State (5-10) had two match points at 24-22 in the fourth set, but kills by Tori Tua and Biassou tied the score. Another Biassou kill gave the Lobos a 25-24 lead, and an Aggies error forced set five.
“It was just our will and our want-to-win,” Biassou said of her team’s fourth-set rally. “Once we got to the fifth set, we were all just ready to go take the match.”
UNM players posted several career highs, including 11 kills by Tua and six blocks by Torres, who picked up two on the final two points of the match. Kali Wolf had 11 kills and 14 digs for the Lobos, while Moldan — who normally plays libero — had three kills and three blocks.
“It was our crew of seven versus what felt like an army,” Newman-Gonchar said. “We had one sub and players receiving heat treatments during timeouts. If I wanted to make a change, there were no changes to make.”
The crazy finish seemed oddly appropriate for UNM’s pandemic-delayed season. New Mexico pandemic restrictions prevented a team with just four returning players from practicing as a unit until Jan. 28, and the Lobos played the first 12 of their 14 matches on the road.
Complicating matters were a string of injuries that allowed just three players (Biassou, Moldan and Wolf) to appear in every match. Newman-Gonchar said none of his team’s injuries was severe enough to keep players out of action next fall.
“I think the lack of preparation time was part of it,” Newman-Gonchar said. “Injuries started building up and I just wasn’t going to risk making any of them worse. But we’ll have everyone back in the fall and this team is coming. With everyone healthy and full preparation, I can’t wait to see what they can do.”
■ In Orem, Utah, host Utah Valley swept New Mexico State 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 in Saturday’s WAC title match on its home court. Saturday’s loss likely ends a 16-2 season for the Aggies, who like the Lobos played away from home nearly the entire way because of pandemic-related restrictions. The NCAA Tournament field is to be announced Sunday.
SOFTBALL: In Fresno, Calif., host Fresno State pitcher no-hit the Lobos for the second time in as many days in a 14-0, five-inning decision. UNM (2-26) was outscored 29-1 in the three-game set. It was at least the fifth time this season the Lobos have been no-hit.
- In Las Cruces, Matalasi FaapitoCQ and Chloe Rivas combined on a four-hitter as New Mexico State (18-16) romped past 15-18 Grand Canyon 8-1 in the rubber match of a three-game set.
SOCCER: In Seattle, New Mexico State (4-11-1) fell 3-2 to host Seattle University (10-4-2) at Championship Field..
BASEBALL: In San Diego, New Mexico (8-14, 6-9 Mountain West) was no match for host San Diego State (16-6, 11-4), which won 15-0 in seven innings to conclude a three-game series sweep. SDSU knocked out Lobo starter Tristan Lively with one out in the second inning and outhit the Lobos 15-6.
- In Eugene, Ore., pitchers Cullen Kafka and Kolby Somers combined to hold New Mexico State (10-14) to three hits in a 2-1 win by No. 19 Oregon (16-6) to begin a doubleheader. The Ducks won the nightcap 6-1.
TENNIS: In Reno, Nevada, the UNM men (4-8, 2-0) swept Nevada 4-0 for their 11th straight Mountain West Conference win; the Lobo women lost 4-2 to Wyoming in Colorado Springs.
Journal staffers contributed to this report.