Sept. 20, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Volleyball - Mountain West Conference - Johnson Center
Thursday: New Mexico 3, Colorado State 2 (10-25, 18-25, 25-11, 25-20, 15-9)
Saturday: 7 p.m., Vs. Wyoming - Family Night/High School Team Night
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This was big. No, this was huge. Heck, in a way it was unexpected simply because the mighty Colorado State Rams had knocked the Lobos into the ropes carrying a 2-0 lead over UNM going into the break.
"This is the best team in the league and the fact that we could do this is amazing," said Lobo Coach Jeff Nelson.
Maybe the Lobos remembered something: This was their house. It took the young Lobos a few games and a few shaky moments to realize that and then Colorado State was in trouble.
"Our coach told us we had nothing to lose, which is so true," said Lobo Alijah Gunsaulus. "He just said have fun, play our game and see what happens. We played our game and they fell apart.
The fired up Lobos stormed out of their locker room to sweep three games from the CSU Rams Thursday night in Johnson Center (10-25, 18-25, 25-11, 25-20, 15-9).
The Lobos looked to be in trouble at the break, but came out with renewed energy, confidence and a ferocious defense. Where the Rams were coming up with big blocks at the net, the Lobos were diving all over the court with digs and gutsy dives.
"We weren't even mad in the locker room at halftime," said Nelson of the 2-0 hole his Lobos were standing in. "We talked all week that we have to outwork them or we're going to get beat up on.
"The first two games we didn't and we got beat up on."
The Lobos had been losing most of the net battles early, but came back to finish with 44 blocks to 49 for CSU. UNM had 72 digs to 67 for the visitors from Fort Collins. Miquella Lovato had 23 digs to pace that UNM ferocity on the back row.
The Lobos got 14 kills from Alijah Gunsaulus, 11 from Chantale Riddle, 21 assists from Hannah Johnson and 18 assists from Jordan Russell. Gunsaulus added 13 digs and Lena Skipper had 13 digs and eight kills.
The Rams might have had a little more flash at the net, but the Lobos went blue collar on the Rams when it came to defense and floor burns.
"We realize that defense wins games," said Skipper.
The UNM strategy for a comeback seemed almost simple: keep the ball alive, get it back to the other side of the net and put the pressure on the Rams to perform. The Rams performed well, but not as well as the Lobos.
"In game three, we started touching everything, making plays, whether it was on the block or the dig," said Nelson. "We just kept sending balls back and things started falling our way."
The win puts UNM (13-2) atop the Mountain West standing at 1-0 and sends CSU into the cellar at 0-1. The Lobos play host to Wyoming at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Lobos lost the first two sets 25-10 and 25-18. The Rams went into the locker room at the break with 28 kills to 14 for the host team. CSU had nine errors to 17 for UNM. CSU had 18 blocks to eight for the Lobos.
"We had to prove that we were a strong team and we did it," said Skipper. "We knew we had it in us. We knew we could do it."
Game One: CSU 25, UNM 10
The Lobos fell into a 5-0 hole quickly and Nelson called a timeout. The tall Rams had taken control of the net and making UNM pay for it. UNM's lone attempt at a spike during that run came from Riddle and it was out on the side. A serving error ended the CSU run and put UNM on the board, 5-1.
The Rams never really let go of that 5-0 cushion - and then expanded it. The Lobos hung around at 10-5 and then when CSU pushed its lead to 12-5, Nelson called his team over for another huddle. The Lobo gathering failed to stop the Rams' run. They went up 17-8, 24-9 and closed with the 25-10 final.
CSU was dominant in the first set with 14 kills to UNM's four. The Rams' tall front line took away a lot of the UNM attack. Megan Plourde had five kills for CSU in that frame and Riddle had three of the four UNM spikes. Plourde had three other Rams with three kills. Riddle got help at the net only from Lena Skipper with the other Lobo kill.
Game Two: CSU 25, UNM 19
The Lobos needed to come out with a little spark and not let the Rams drift away. They did that early, going up 4-3, 5-3, 6-4 and 7-5. The Lobos, a little tight in the first game, found out they could play with the Rams. The Lobos stayed ahead or tied most of the way until CSU went up 16-15. UNM worked out of a 17-15 hole to form a 17-all tie, but CSU came up with two huge blocks at the net to help the Rams work into a 20-17 lead. UNM called time.
The Rams went up 21-17, scrambling to get the ball back over the net. But that floating, soft spike found a Lobo hole. Nelson burned another timeout, down by four in the stretch run. The Lobos had an error at the net and CSU was up 22-17. That five-point hole proved to be too much for UNM and enough for the Rams. They closed out the set 25-18. CSU won eight of the final nine points: 8-1.
At the break, CSU's Megan Plourde had eight kills, Dana Cranston had six and Adrianna Culbert had five. UNM was paced by Riddle and Lena Skipper with four each.
The Lobos had an attack percentage of minus .174 in the first game and a positive .027 in the second. CSU went .345 percent and .281 percent in the second game.
Game Three: UNM 25, CSU 10:
It's not unusual for the home team in volleyball to come out of their locker room with some fire - especially if the visitor is up 2-0 and maybe a little flat. The key is to keep that fire hot and keep the opponent in a cool down stage.
The Lobos did that - in a big way.'
UNM was as dominant in the third game as CSU was in the first. UNM came out on fire, went up 6-1, and had the Rams scrambling to call a timeout to break the UNM momentum. It didn't work. The Lobos clawed up 13-5 and CSU again called the troops to the side for a talk.
The Lobos continued to dominant: 15-7, 17-10, 18-10, 19-10 - cruising to the 25-11 final. UNM hit .286 in game four and CSU plummeted to a minus .097.
Game Four: UNM 25, CSU 20
The fourth game was the best of the night. You had two good teams playing good volleyball with the Lobos feeding off the frenzy of their loyal crowd.
The Rams took control during the stretch run of game two and that's what the Lobos did in this game. The two Mountain West teams see-sawed on the scoreboard until UNM charged out of an 18-17 lead to roll to the dramatic 25-20 win. No team led by more than three points until UNM went up 20-17.
Game Five: UNM 15, CSU 9
The fifth and deciding game is played to fifteen. It's important to get the early lead. UNM went up 5-1 and the Rams could never really close that gap. The Rams did seem to play with more fire in the final game, but the Lobos were on a roll, confident and playing with no fear.
"They are a great team," Nelson said of the Rams. "I think we played as good as we can play. We're not going to roll over anybody this year with ten people. We are going to have to battle every night."
Game Notes: New Mexico is 4-1 in five-set matches in 2012. ...
The Rams haven't swept the Lobos at home since Nov. 17, 2007. Last season New Mexico took the match at home to five sets, before dropping the match, 2-3. In 2010, the Lobos shocked the then-No.13 Rams with a sweep on Nov. 11. The Rams took the matches in Albuquerque in 2009 (3-2) and 2008 (3-1). ...
It's only the third time since 1997, when Tom Hilbert took over the Rams' program, that the Lobos have defeated CSU. The last time the Lobos beat Colorado State was on Nov. 11, 2010, a 3-0 win over the then-No. 13 CSU in Albuquerque. The other time during that span was a 3-1 decision at home on Oct. 22, 2005.