Nov. 26, 2011
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The University of New Mexico volleyball team lost its final match of the season, 3-1, to No. 23 Long Beach State Saturday night at the Walter Pyramid.
It was senior night in Long Beach. Both the Lobos’ seniors and 49ers’ seniors were honored before the match. This would mark the last time Allison Buck, Kelly Williamson and Ashley Rhoades would ever don a Lobo uniform again.
The Lobos found themselves pitted against a team coming off a 14-match winning streak and a conference championship. Plus, UNM was without its standout senior, Rhoades, who was still nursing an ankle injury suffered last week in UNM’s loss to Wyoming in the Mountain West Volleyball Championship Tournament.
The Lobos played with heart, grit, passion and exuberance; something the coaches have been trying to get them to do all season. Unfortunately, the absence of Rhoades and Long Beach’s size advantage kept the Lobos from getting the win.
Game One: Long Beach State 25, Lobos 17
The Lobos hung tough with the No. 23 team in the nation during the first set. UNM went down, 2-5, early to Long Beach State, but battled back behind Williamson and her six kills. The Lobos closed the gap to 8-9 at one point, but saw the lead slip away once again. Head coach Jeff Nelson was forced to call two timeouts during a stretch in which Long Beach State built a 20-14 lead. The timeouts weren’t enough to help the Lobos cut into the 49ers’ advantage, as Long Beach State took the game one, 25-17. Freshman Elsa Krieg did her best to fill in for the injured Rhoades, recording two kills with a .400 hitting percentage. As a team, the Lobos were plagued by their hitting percentage. UNM finished the first set hitting .143 compared to Long Beach State’s .394.
Game Two: Lobos 25, Long Beach State 21
The Lobos jumped out to an early lead in game two, going up 5-1 on the 49ers. Williamson continued to rack up the kills for UNM. The senior had a game-high 12 by the end of the second set. Long Beach State began to cut into the Lobos lead after 49ers’ head coach Brian Gimmillaro subbed in spark plug Janisa Johnson. Johnson, just a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, came in and recorded two quick and athletic kills, giving the 49ers the confidence they needed to cut the Lobos’ lead to 6-3. Sophomore Lexi Ross came up big for the Lobos, recording a pair of blocks, as Long Beach State continued its run. Soon, the Lobos found themselves tied at 13-all half way through the set. After some back-and-forth play between the two teams, UNM found itself back on top, leading the 49ers, 21-18. A bit perplexed, 49ers’ head coach Gimmillaro called another timeout, hoping to rally his Big West champion team. The Lobos held onto their lead until the very end of game two, closing out the set emphatically as Ashley Newman and Chantale Riddle recorded back-to-back kills to notch the match up at a game apiece. As a team, the Lobos hit .469 to take the set, 25-21, over the 49ers. The .469 hitting percentage was the best percentage the Lobos have recorded in any set all season.
Game Three: Long Beach State 25, Lobos 13
Long Beach State came out of the locker room ready to prove something in the third set. The 49ers quickly jumped on the Lobos for an early, 8-3, lead that prompted Coach Nelson to call a timeout. UNM was able to close the gap to 13-8, behind a pair of kills from Riddle and a big one from Newman, as well as a pair of service errors from Long Beach State. Despite the Lobos’ being down, Allison Buck continued to play great defense, as she always does. The senior had a game-high 13 digs by the end of game three. After closing the gap initially, the Lobos just ran out of steam and saw the 49ers run away with the set, 25-13. Long Beach senior Caitlin Ledoux and Johnson led the 49ers’ offensive attack with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Long Beach State now had a two sets to one lead.
Game Four: Long Beach State 25, Lobos 22
After a not-so-hot performance in game three, the Lobos came out strong in the fourth set. Things were close early, as UNM and Long Beach State found each another locked in a 9-9 tie. Long Beach State now had three players in double-digit kill territory (Ledoux, Johnson and Alma Serna), while UNM had two in Williamson, who had a match-high 21 kills, and Riddle with 11. Neither team was willing to let up, as the score continued to remain tight at 19-18 in the 49ers favor. At this point, Long Beach’s Ledoux had a double-double with 15 kills and 10 digs. Tensions were high as the set neared completion. Long Beach State had a 23-21 lead, forcing UNM’s Nelson to call a timeout before he saw the 49ers take this match away from the Lobos. In the end, Long Beach State proved to be too much for the Lobos as the 49ers took the set, 25-22, and the match, 3-1.
UNM had fought valiantly, but couldn’t pull out the win in its final match of the 2011 season. The Lobos three seniors: Williamson, Rhoades and Buck will all go down as great players in UNM volleyball history now that their careers are over.
UNM finishes the 2011 season with a 14-15 record. It is the first losing season the Lobos have had under Nelson and it is just the second losing season Nelson has ever had in his 17 years as a head coach.