Sept. 30, 2009
Thursday: San Diego State at Lobos, 7 p.m. Johnson Center
Saturday: Air Force at Lobos, 1 p.m. Johnson Center
Online: GameTracker; All-Access/Lobo TV on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The home-sweet-home jingle didn't exactly have a happy ring to it the last time the Lobo volleyball team stepped into Johnson Center. Junior Lisa Meeter says the Lobos owe their fans some payback. She plans to give it to them.
"We felt we let them down a bit last game (a loss to TCU)," she said. "We feel like our fans are a part of our program and they have expectations, too. We want to show them that we have turned this program around to where it is something they want to come out to watch and support."
There is no doubt the Jeff Nelson Lobos put on a good show backed by high energy and high-level talent. And the support in Johnson Center already is pretty, darn good: currently No. 22 in the NCAA with a 1,410 average.
But these Lobos want more. They want to make Johnson Center a court that University of New Mexico opponents fear and respect like the most fabled court at UNM: The Pit.
"We want that, too,," said senior Rose Morris, whose injured pinkie makes her questionable for UNM's Mountain West Conference matches Thursday against San Diego State and Saturday against Air Force.
"I grew up here (Sandia High product) and going to The Pit is such an intimidating environment. We are only going to build that environment for us by winning here and making sure that people want to come in here and watch us. We need our fans."
As stated, the Lobos already are one of the nation's top teams when it comes to fans wanting to witness their high-wire act in front of the net. For the first time since 1996, UNM has drawn more than 1,000 fans for its first seven home matches, including a 1,911 hight against Baylor. The Lobos finished the 2008 season ranked No. 20 in national attendance.
The Lobos want more.
"We thrive off a big crowd," said Meeter. "It's the kind of atmosphere that really makes us want to play well."
Thursday's battle with San Diego State is Youth Jersey Night and Jam Johnson Night. Admission is $2 and kids are encouraged to wear their team jerseys. Route 66 Casino Hotel is the match sponsor.
"We really need our fans this week," said Nelson. "This gym allows our fans to get close to the action and that makes it fun for them. We also want our fans to know that if they come to watch us, we will fight and put on a show."
Morris has been sidelined since Sept. 12 while stitches in her pinkie finger heal. She said being removed from the action has allowed her to notice how the crowd influences the game.
"When you are on the court, you feel the crowd's energy," she said. "But when you are sitting on the bench, you hear them more and you notice how the fans ride the waves of the game.
"If we are doing good, they go crazy, so it's important to us to have a good crowd. We feed off them and they feed off us. We take it personal to lose here because we appreciate our fans so much. We didn't put on a good show last time here."
The home-court loss to TCU dropped UNM into a MWC hole at 0-1. The hole became a bit deeper after going 0-2 with a loss at Colorado State. UNM got its first win at Wyoming and the Lobos carry a 1-2 league mark at the Aztecs.
"It's really good timing for us to come home," said Meeter. "We have our chemistry back and we have a chance to come back to a huge crowd in Johnson Center and get some wins.
"We know we started off shaky and we know we need to finish strong. We are still working hard to be conference champions. That's what we are trying for. I still think we are a better team than last year. We have more options, more depth, more passion."
Said Morris: "We were bummed after TCU, but we still have a lot of games. We need to do our job here at home and take care of the next two teams coming in here."
Colorado State and Utah are leading the MWC race with 3-0 marks. TCU and BYU are 2-1.
The Lobos are 9-5 on the season. There are five Lobos averaging more than 2.00 kills per set paced by Taylor Hadfield (2.50), Meeter (2.47) and the injured Morris (2.41). Ashley Rhoades leads the Lobos with a .305 attack percentage. Junior Jade Michaelsen tops UNM in assists at 9.82.
The Aztecs are 6-7 overall and 1-2 in league. Air Force is 8-7 and 0-3. The Lobos lead the Falcons' series 21-3.
"We need to continue to play tougher on the road," said Nelson. "But right now we have to take care of business at home."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner