Aug. 21, 2009
Saturday: Cherry vs. Silver, 1 p.m.; Vs. Alumni, 7 p.m.
Where: Johnson Center
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
They might not get the attention they deserve because they are walk-ons, because they are only freshmen, and because the Lobo volleyball program is loaded with marquee talent such as Jade Michaelsen, Lisa Meeter and Rose Morris.
But the four walk-ons from the Albuquerque area -- Melissa Rohr, Jordan Russell, Jackie Rodriguez and Carli Torr -- represent a core of the UNM program that Lobo Coach Jeff Nelson covets, needs and cultivates.
They are talented, New Mexico players who could have taken their skills to other schools, but grew up dreaming about being Lobos.
"A strong walk-on program is essential to your success," said Nelson. "They had some other options, but their dream was to play here and be a Lobo. They want to be here and we want them. It's a win-win."
In a way, you have to give Nelson credit for helping foster such dreams in local talent. The UNM program is good and getting better. It's a great place to play volleyball with high-energy student-athletes, who are class acts on and off the court.
"I just love this team so much and when I got the chance to play here, I couldn't say no," said Rohr.
Said Nelson: "The more we build the program, hopefully more girls will have the same perspective toward our program. It's nice that this is where they want to be, this is their dream."
It's also nice to add four more New Mexico girls to the UNM roster. Probably the main reason fans attend Lobo games is to see quality competition in a sport those fans love. But it never hurts to throw in some local talent to lure in Lobo fans.
"I'm really close to my family and I wanted to play in front of them," said Russell. "I know all the girls and the coaching staff and it was so easy to come here and be comfortable."
Russell is from Moriarty High School. Rodriguez hails from Rio Rancho High. Rohr is a graduate of Cibola High and Torr is from La Cueva High. They package nicely with Morris, a Sandia High product, and Ashley Rhoades of Rio Rancho. UNM also is hoping to add Chantale Riddle of Roswell to the roster later this semester.
"We love local talent because it helps draw the local fan and the growth of our crowd is something we work hard at," said Nelson. "They have played locally for years and they have their own following and their own respect as players."
Now, it's not that these locals are charity cases that Nelson added to the roster just for the New Mexico flavor. These girls can play. That's important not simply because they make the program better, but they make practices better.
"You want quality players who will make practices better every day and these girls do that," said Nelson. "And some of them will see some playing time this season. These are talented players. They can play for us."
LOBOS 2009 ROSTER
"We all played club ball together," said Torr. "It's nice to be around people I have known for a long time and who are adjusting to the same thing I am."
Said Rodriguez: "I'm best friends with Ashley, so I've been to a lot of Lobo matches and it's nice to have your best friend already on the team. That makes it easy. I've played with Jordan (Russell) for about five years now. We are all friends. There is chemistry and a bond and it's not forced. That's nice."
Of course, the goal of all players and all freshmen is to get off the bench and get into the game. That won't be easy on a UNM team that is loaded and good.
"We all want to get out there but this is a strong program with a good foundation of players," said Russell, a young setter playing behind Michaelsen, the Mountain West's Preseason Co-Player of The Year. "And Jade is an amazing player. I'll take whatever I can get, but I want to come in here and learn all I can."
Said Torr: "I realize I'm a freshman and I need to learn and get better. I'm just going to work my hardest to get out there, but I'm not going to be impatient."
Nelson said the biggest adjustment for freshmen is adjusting to the speed, power and pace of D-I volleyball.
"The pace of the game is so different from high school and club," said Nelson. "The players are older, more athletic and have been lifting so they are more powerful. It's an intense pace."
The talent level isn't something that has gone unnoticed by these four freshmen. They know the challenges of D-I ball comes from practice as well as games.
"They are awesome, pretty amazing," said Rohr of her teammates.
Lobo Notes: The UNM Alumni team includes Maria Stutsman Murrietta, Jeanne Fairchild, Sarah Kwasigroch, Paulina Deming, Adah Burke and Paula Feathers ... Admission to the two matches is free, however the team is accepting donations of dry and canned goods for the Roadrunner Food Bank.