Aug. 19, 2011
Lobos Vs. Alumni:The Lobos' annual "Lobos Vs. Alumni" match will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday in Johnson Center.
LOBO WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL 2011 SEASON PREVIEW
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Again, Jeff Nelsonis raising the bar, but maybe the Lobo women's volleyball coach had no choice in the matter. At least three of his Lobos are jumping out of the gym.
If you are worried about the Lobos losing three headliners in Lisa Meeter, Jade Michaelsen and Taylor Hadfield, don't be. Nelson has established such a solid program that the star search is like a revolving door.
Three go out - three more Lobos step up.
This season there might be four or five Lobos capable of filling the gigantic holes left by graduated Lobos.
The jumping jacks are 5-foot-11 Ashley Rhoades, 6-2 Kelly Williamson and 6-foot Chantale Riddle, who is coming off a redshirt season. These jumpers will give UNM explosive power at the net as this trio can jump between 10-foot, three inches and 10-6.
The shortest of the three, Rhoades, is the best leaper, reaching 10-6. "That's ridiculous for a 5-11 kid," said Nelson. "She is banging the ball and is so much more confident than she has ever been."
In 2010, it was almost like Rhoades was bidding her time, waiting for the senior stars to graduate. Now, it's her time. She looks ready.
Rhoades gained invaluable experience and confidence playing for a gold medal winning U.S. National team this summer. Rhoades was the only Mountain West player selected to the teams that competed for the national title in Dallas.
She led UNM in blocks (115) in 2010 and was fourth on the team in kills (256). Her 20-kill game against TCU last season might be a warning of things to come.
"Ashley has really toughened up," said Nelson. "She is a different person than she was when she got here. She has been crazy (good) since January and we're going to use her all over the floor."
Rhoades has a lot of help up front. Williamson also had a 20-kill game in 2010. The Lobos Club's 2010 Female Student-Athlete of The Year had 296 kills last season and that number should soar in 2011. Simply put: there is more room at the net and Williamson needs to help fill that void.
Williamson, born in Brasilia, Brazil, also picked up good experience this summer playing volleyball in China with a touring team comprised of U.S. collegians. She was named Third Team CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American in 2010. "Kelly has improved her jump serve and she is jumping high and hitting the ball at a new level," said Nelson.
THE LOBO SKED
Aug. 20 - Vs. Alumni
Aug. 26-27 - Lobo tourney
Aug. 26 - Vs. U-San Fran
Aug. 27 - Vs. Nebraska
Sept. 2 -3 - N. Ariz tourney
Sept. 2 - Vs. Hampton
Sept. 3 - At N. Arizona
Sept. 3 - Vs. San Jose State
Sept. 9-10 - Lobo tourney
Sept. 9 - Vs. UC Irviine
Sept. 10 - Vs. Portland St
Sept. 10 - Vs. Montreal
Sept. 16-17 - Pitts tourney
Sept. 16 - At Pittsburgh
Sept. 17 - Vs. Delaware
Sept. 17 - Vs. Temple
Sept. 23 - Vs. TCU
Sept. 26 - Vs. Texas Tech
Sept. 29 - At Air Force
Oct. 1 - At Boise State
Oct. 4 - At New Mexico St
Oct. 6 - Vs. UNLV
Oct. 9 - Vs. San Diego St
Oct. 13 - At Colorado State
Oct. 15 - At Wyoming
Oct. 21 - At TCU
Oct. 23 - At Texas Pan Am
Oct. 27 - Vs. Boise State
Oct. 29 - Vs. Air Force
Nov. 3 - At San Diego St
Nov. 5 - At UNLV
Nov. 10 - Vs. Wyoming
Nov. 12 - Vs. Colorado St
Nov. 18-20 - MWC tourney
Nov. 26 - At Long Beach St
Home Games in Bold
MWC Tournament in Johnson Center
The new kid up front for UNM - Riddle - really isn't new to the system. She sat out last season and the talented redshirt freshman is eager for her first taste of collegiate action. She came to UNM out of Roswell, N.M., where she was considered one of the state's top all-around athletes as an All-State performer in three sports - volleyball, basketball and track.
Riddle won a high school state title in basketball, finished runner-up in basketball and set a state record in Class 4A in the long jump. Now, she is ready to do some damage for the Lobos up front.
"Chantale is a big force at the net," said Nelson. "She plays very high and will be a big part of our offense."
If the Lobos have an unsung hero coming back, it's only because the position (libero) that Allison Buckplays doesn't get the glory, or the points, that come up front at the net. Buck is one of the best players in the Mountain West and was named to the 2010 All-MW First Team as a junior. She is the Lobos only returning All-MW first teamer. She had 424 digs last season.
"She is probably the premier passer in the conference," said Nelson. "She covers a lot of court for us and that's a big plus."
Leadership always is a key for a team's success and Nelson likes that quality in his team, which mostly will come from his three seniors: Buck, Rhoades and Williamson.
"The seniors have grown a lot since last season," said Nelson. "I think in terms of leadership we have the things in place to pick right up. We have a lot of experience coming back."
Nelson also has a lot of youth on his squad with four sophomores and seven freshmen, including Riddle. He has only one junior in Jordan Russell, out of Moriarty High. That young roster brings up an obvious question: How's the depth?
"We aren't as deep as last year, but we have the right components," said Nelson. "The seniors this year are really special kids who are extremely motivated and good leaders. Our biggest issue this year is staying healthy. We have to have our kids on the floor to have a shot."
A number of Lobos are unknowns more than they are question marks. They are talented, but just haven't seen the court much. They will be thrown into the front-line trenches this season.
Miquella Lovato is an outstanding passer and defender (114 digs). Ashley Newman (6-0), Lexi Ross (6-2) and Jayla Trombley (5-10) should provide offensive help. Mariah Agre (5-10) is a solid defender (225 digs) and has a nasty serve (15 aces). "It's a different team, but there are a lot of exciting components and we have the go-tos to get it done," said Nelson. "I think mentally and physically our kids are more ready than they have ever been."
Again, Nelson has challenged his Lobos with a tough schedule that includes No. 5 Nebraska stepping into Johnson Center on Aug. 27. UNM will face the usual, tough talent of the West Coast and also travel to Pittsburgh to play Pitt, Delaware and Temple.
The MW race appears to be a dogfight between UNM and Colorado State with San Diego State talented enough to make a run in this balanced conference. The CSU Rams are ranked No. 15 and No. 16 in preseason polls and were picked over the Lobos to win the MW title.
However, the Rams lost four starters from their 26-5 team of 2010 and have eight true or redshirt freshmen on their roster. Like the Lobos, CSU lost three All-MW players.
The Lobos also have an ace in the hole as the 2011 Mountain West Tournament, which hands the winner an automatic NCAA bid, will be played in Johnson Center.
Nelson, the 2010 MW Coach of The Year, has seen his Lobos place fifth, fourth, third and second in league play.
"We are hoping maybe it's our time to win now," he said. "Hosting the tournament is a great opportunity for us. Our players love playing in Johnson Center. There aren't many venues in the country like it. It's packed and it's loud and they love good volleyball.
"Nebraska gives us an opportunity to showcase volleyball right away and then we have the conference tournament at the end."
The Lobos of 2011 have power at the net and at least two great defenders. Still, they have some big shoes to fill. Last year's Lobos beat New Mexico State, beat CSU, and won nine of their final ten games to advance to NCAA play for the second straight season.
"You never know how a team will come together and what kind of animal they are going to become," said Nelson. "But I think this team is ready to pick it up and take it further. We have some no-nonsense kids. They are get-it-done type of kids."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.