ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nelson Not Happy After 3-1 Defeat
The razor-thin University of New Mexico volleyball team has precious little margin for error these days.
But UNM errors were plentiful Thursday night.
With just nine players in uniform, the Lobos battled Mountain West Conference co-leader UNLV to a standstill for most of three sets at the Pit. But a late meltdown in the third set proved the home team’s undoing in a 3-1 Rebel victory.
UNM vs. Fresno State, 6 p.m., Johnson Center
The set scores were 25-21, 15-25, 25-21, 25-13.
This one went south suddenly for the Lobos. After splitting the first two sets, New Mexico (18-7, 5-4 MWC) scored three straight points to lead 19-17 in the third. That’s when things went haywire for coach Jeff Nelson’s team.
UNM’s Lena Skipper was stuffed at the net for a UNLV point. Lobo Lexi Ross then mistimed a high set and nicked the ball into the net. Skipper followed by touching a Rebel serve that was headed out of bounds, and suddenly UNLV led 20-19.
The Rebels (15-7, 7-2) finished Set 3 on an 8-2 run that included six Lobo errors. A one-sided fourth set left Nelson with a sour taste in his mouth.
“I thought the team decided to take a step back,” Nelson said, “not a step forward. I thought the team quit (in sets three and four), and that’s disappointing. We’ve been the kind of team that’s battled all year, but not in our last two matches.”
Nelson conceded that the loss of junior Ashley Newman to a season-ending knee injury during Tuesday’s loss to New Mexico State was a factor in his team’s performance.
When standout outside hitter Chantale Riddle rolled an ankle and briefly left Thursday’s match, middle blocker Megan Short had to fill in.
“We stuck Megan in at a position she doesn’t even play,” Nelson said, “because we didn’t have any other subs. That’s just where we are .”
Newman is the fourth Lobo to go down with a season-ending injury in 2012.
Still, Nelson said a thin roster didn’t excuse UNM’s poor finish. Erratic setting, ineffective hitting on the left side of the net and a UNLV squad that sensed its opportunity all factored into the outcome.
Riddle put together another strong outing with 21 kills, four total blocks and a career-best 19 digs. For much of the night she was UNM’s only reliable hitting threat.
Ross collected 10 kills, but just two in the first set and none in the fourth. Left-side hitters Skipper and Alijah Gunsaulus combined to hit in negative numbers with 12 kills and 14 attack errors.
“Outside hitters take the grief,” Nelson said, “but they have to make the best of the sets they get. Our sets were all over the place.”
UNLV’s offense, meanwhile, was largely efficient behind setter Kinsey Caldwell. Daryn Glenn paced the Rebels with 15 kills, while three other hitters collected nine or more.
UNLV set the tone for the match with a late run in Set 1. Tied at 19, the Rebels used three scoring blocks to take the set with a 6-2 run.
The Lobos answered in Set 2, when Ross and Skye Gullatt combined for six kills in the middle and UNM led wire to wire.
But the late flurry of errors in Set 3 proved decisive, as UNLV dominated Set 4.
“It may be that our kids are just exhausted, playing short-handed for so much of the season,” Nelson said. “But we’ve got to give our fans the benefit of going out to battle every night. We didn’t rise to the occasion tonight.”
— This article appeared on page C5 of the Albuquerque Journal