It kind of felt like a day at the beach in Albuquerque’s North Valley on Saturday.
All the elements were in place as the University of New Mexico beach volleyball team wrapped up its two-day home stand with a 4-1 win over Colorado Mesa at Lucky 66 Bowl and Sand Courts – except an ocean, of course.
Close to 400 fans soaked in the sun at a setting that featured umbrellas, piped in music (even during the action) and a heavy scent of sunscreen. Much of UNM’s cast was the same, but this did not feel like an indoor match at Johnson Center.
“It’s a laid-back environment,” Lobo freshman Lauren Twitty said, “and there’s a lot more smiling out here.”
There was no lack of intensity during the actual pairs matches. Players for both teams came away with sand on their uniforms, in their hair and pretty much everywhere after diving for saves and quickly scrambling to their feet for the next shot. Three matches were underway at a time, giving fans plenty to cheer about – and they did.
“The competition’s different from indoor,” UNM junior Ashley Kelsey said. “With only two players on a side, there are more hustle plays and it requires all-around skills. Indoor’s more specialized with net players, setters and back row. Out here you have to do it all.
“Fans get to see (6-foot-5 Victoria Spragg) diving and playing defense, and I think they like that.”
UNM’s players got into the act, particularly Kelsey, who was taking video highlights after her match concluded. At one point she raced along the stands with her camera encouraging fans to do the wave as she passed.
“The crowds were awesome, the weather was great and the matches were good,” Lobo coach Jeff Nelson said. “We couldn’t have asked for much more.”
The Lobos (10-9) did fall one match short of a perfect weekend. UNM swept Colorado Mesa 5-0 on Friday but dropped the No. 1 pairs position in three close sets Saturday.
Nelson switched his top two pairs after Friday’s match, moving Devanne Sours and Lisé Rugland to No. 1 and dropping Cassie House and Kelsey to No. 2 simply to change the matchups. House and Kelsey rolled to a 21-18, 21-7 win, but the No. 1 pairs match turned into a battle.
By the time Sours and Rugland went to a decisive third set against CMU’s Taylor Woods and Abby Ney, the Lobos had already won four pairs matches to lock up the team victory. But Woods and Ney fought hard to earn a point for their team and pulled out an 18-21, 24-22, 15-13 win with all the fans, players and coaches watching.
“It would’ve been nice to get the sweep,” Nelson said, “but give (Woods and Ney) credit. They battle, work really hard and stay in every point. We can out-physical Colorado Mesa a little bit, but they don’t give you anything. They’re a good team to play.”
UNM took two-set victories in each of Saturday’s other pairs matches. Eastyn Baleto and Marisa Doran won at No. 3, Spragg and Chloe Crappell prevailed at No. 4, Twitty and Julia Warren won at No. 5, and Lyric Ellison and Carly Beddingfield took the exhibition match.
The Lobos, who play most of their matches in road tournaments, will travel to Birmingham, Ala., for four matches at the Blazer Beach Duals on Friday and Saturday. They’ll then play twice in Tempe, Ariz., before finishing the season April 22 with a home match against Air Force.