The growing pains of the youthful New Mexico volleyball team were evident Saturday.
So was the exuberance.
The Lobos, who boast 11 underclassmen on their 15 player roster, weren’t as sharp in Saturday’s final match of the Sheraton Airport Lobo Classic as they were in a pair of sweeps Friday in Johnson Gym, but they were good when it mattered most in beating Georgia Tech 3-1 (25-17, 16-25, 27-25, 25-23).
“Our immaturity came through a little bit today,” Lobo coach Jeff Nelson said, adding his team hasn’t yet mastered winning easy.
“We started strong and won the first game too easy. Then we just got sloppy. I think we were still working hard … but it was sloppy.”
Sure enough, the Lobos dominated Game 1 behind four kills from Chantale Riddle, 10 assists from Hannah Johnson and four timely digs from Miquella Lovato (each made all-tournament). UNM (5-1) then dropped its first game of the tournament to the Yellow Jackets, 25-16, in Game 2.
Out of the locker room for Game 3, it looked like the Lobos were back on track, jumping to a 10-5 lead on a Devanne Sours kill. Then Georgia Tech (3-3) turned the tables with a 13-5 run.
The Lobos toughed out a gritty 27-25 win in Game 3 and held strong against three set points from Georgia Tech.
“We’re up and down sometimes,” Lovato said. “But overall when it came to it we worked really hard and everyone’s effort was right there.”
Nelson credited Lovato for keeping the team focused in her 18-dig defensive gem. She credited the blockers in front of her “making my job easy.”
The Lobos cruised to a 21-13 lead in Game 4 before losing focus again. The visitors scored nine of the next 11 points before UNM closed them out with two straight points – clinching it with a kill from the left by freshman Julia Warren, thanks to a perfect assist from the sophomore Johnson.
Johnson had a match-high 41 assists and 110 in the tournament. Riddle, a junior from Roswell, had a match-high 15 kills, but hit just .208 in the win. She also had 15 digs Saturday and 45 in the tournament en route to MVP honors.
“We’re definitely still working out some kinks,” Riddle said, “but we’ll definitely be ready when conference comes up and next week’s tournament. I know everything we go through right now is going to help us later on.”
On Friday, the Lobos swept Idaho State. With Idaho State having swept Georgia Tech earlier Friday, the Lobos may have expected an easier go of things Saturday.
“We lacked the intensity we had (Friday) against a really good team,” Nelson said. “If we played clean volleyball, we would have been out of here in three. … The good thing is we’re playing a team from the ACC and not playing our best, and (still) winning. That’s a great sign.”