LAS CRUCES – Freshmen typically don’t contribute for Mike Jordan’s New Mexico State volleyball program.
Despite that fact, and while also recovering from a serious arm injury, Gadsden High School product Nathalie Castellanos was a productive player for the Aggies NCAA Tournament team in 2012.
“I played at the beginning of the year, then I lost the spot, then I had to get it back,” Castellanos said. “I wasn’t expecting to play. I went into it thinking that I had to work hard and any way you can give to the team is awesome. Especially to a program like this, because it’s been a successful program at New Mexico State.”
What she lacked in experience Castellanos made up for with her competitive nature, something that propelled her as a multisport standout at Gadsden, where she was a two-time state champion in volleyball.
“She plays so hard and she is left-handed, so she gives you an extra dimension offensively,” Jordan said. “But she is a really competitive person. She will compete at anything. She really earned every minute she got and really had some good moments for us last year. She should have a bigger impact this year.”
Castellanos begins her sophomore year with the Aggies this weekend at the California Golden Bears Tournament in Berkeley, Calif. NMSU will open it’s 2013 season with games against Nevada (Friday, 1 p.m.), California (Saturday, 1 p.m.) and California-Santa Barbara (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.).
It’s the first weekend of a challenging 2013 nonconference schedule for NMSU. Next weekend the team will travel to Hawaii to take on national powers Hawaii and UCLA, along with Santa Clara.
If the Aggies get off to a 3-3 start to the season, it would be a beginning.
“I like the way the schedule is because I would rather play teams like that,” Castellanos said. “(Coach) tells us that playing those teams will help us identify our weaknesses so we can improve on those things.”
Jordan believes the Aggies strengths can overcome those weaknesses. Castellanos is part of a balanced Aggie offense, but the team’s early strengths appear to be an abundance of size.
“We have a better defensive presence than we have had in quite some time,” Jordan said. “What I really want to see is that we continue to do what we have been doing in practice, which is play really hard defensively. If I see that, we will have chances to win games.”
The Aggies won 22 games last year to reach the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a first-round match to BYU. The Aggies were swept, but the experience was invaluable for young players.
“I had jitters, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Castellanos said. “Experience means a lot here, just knowing where we need to get to. Seeing a team like BYU shows us the road we need to get to.”
It all starts Friday with a match against former Western Athletic Conference rival Nevada.
“We had a lot of good matches against (Nevada) in the WAC but anything can happen in the first match of the season,” Jordan said. “Cal has Pac-12 talent, and it’s a home match for them. Santa Barbara always plays good volleyball.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend.”