Aug. 26, 2010
MCM Elegante Classic
Friday: Tulane vs. Stanford, 5 p.m.; UNM vs. Pepperdine, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: Stanford vs. Pepperdine, 11:30 a.m.; UNM vs. Tulane, 2 p.m.; Pepperdine vs. Tulane, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: UNM vs. Stanford, 2 p.m.
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
This doesn't exactly fall into the "be careful for what you wish for" department because the New Mexico Lobos volleyball team wanted to chew on some gristly meat in the preseason. "No cupcakes," as senior Jade Michaelsen put it.
So, here comes the meat and potatoes, compliments of Lobo Chef Jeff Nelson: Pepperdine, Tulane and - drum roll, please - Stanford.
The Lobos had better sharpen their knives and maybe their teeth for the leathery foes they will try to feast on in this weekend's MCM Elegante Lobo Classic.
Of course, Stanford is looked upon as the main course in this six-game banquet of volleyball. The Cardinal are volleyball royalty. The Cardinal have won more NCAA titles, more NCAA tournament matches, appeared in more Final Fours and have been in the national championship match more times than any other program in the nation.
Yeah, they are that good and that's why the Lobos will play them at 2 p.m. Sunday in a "Jam Johnson" event. Admission will be $2 for youth and $3 for adults. It's a bargain price. This is like John Wooden's UCLA Bruins coming to town.
What the Lobo need to concentrate on is not looking ahead to what obviously is the Chef's Special. The Lobos play Pepperdine on Friday. Pepperdine is good. The Wave return four starters plus their libero.
The Lobos play Tulane on Saturday. The Green Wave is green, as in young, but they are coming off their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Lobos need to focus on the first and second courses in this volleyball banquet and not have visions of Stanford dancing in their heads too soon. Nelson doesn't think that will be a problem because his talented squad is excited to be on the court for every game and every opponent.
"We talk about one thing at a time," said Nelson. "We have a tougher preseason schedule this year, but we expect to come out of it with a degree of success and we expect to be better because of it."
There is a lot to like about his 2010 Lobo team. UNM has three seniors/four-year starters in Lisa Meeter, Jade Michaelsen and Taylor Hadfield back from the 2009 team that posted a 20-10 mark and took a trip into the NCAA tourney.
Nelson also returns his quarterback/setter in Michaelsen, an all-MWC player. The Lobos return their libero in Allison Buck and a defensive gem in Amy Wong. The Lobos have two of the top juniors in the conference in Ashley Rhoades and Kelly Williamson.
This is a quick, talented UNM team that is fun to watch. It also is a team that can't help but be excited about going against a national power like Stanford. The Cardinal are ranked No. 4 in the nation. They made their 29th appearance in the postseason in 2009.
The Cardinal are led by three All-Americans in Gabi Ailes, Alix Klineman and Cassidy Lichtman. Klineman is a three-time All-American. Lichtman was First Team in 2009. She had 22 double-doubles and 10 triple-doubles last season. She is a beast at the net. Klineman has 1,395 career kills. The Lobos won't be looking at cupcakes when Klineman sends something over the net.
This Cardinal trio has posted an 86-15 mark at Stanford, has won three Pac-10 titles, and has played in two national championship games. Did we mention the Cardinal are good? "They have a look in their eye that coaches like to see," said Cardinal coach John Dunning.
And if you think the adage "the rich get richer" doesn't apply to volleyball or Stanford, think again. Their recruiting class was ranked No. 3 in the nation and there is talk in Palo Alto that this young talent and depth might bring the Cardinal their seventh national title.
The Lobos are just hoping the Cardinal don't get their first MCM Elegante title.
"Stanford is an amazing team," said UNM's Hadfield. "It's such a challenge to play them. We are so excited about that match and packing Johnson will give us a lot of momentum."
Said Michaelsen: "It doesn't help you to play teams you are just going to roll over. That wouldn't make us better."
Obviously, the Lobos will benefit from the talent coming into Johnson Center this weekend. Obviously, any fan that comes to this tourney will benefit by seeing some fantastic volleyball.
"Exposing our fans to teams like this is something we wanted to do," said Nelson. "Stanford is one of the top two or three teams in the nation. We decided to step it up. We will quickly see where we are at."