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Stevens: Can Lobos Walk The Walk Against Mighty CSU Rams?
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/10/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 10, 2010

Match Notes: Nov. 11 & 13 hosting #13 Colorado State and Wyoming Get Acrobat
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Lobo Volleyball -- In Johnson Center
Thursday:
7:30 p.m., Vs. No. 13 Colorado State
Saturday: 1 p.m., Vs. Wyoming
On TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, Cable One 329, DirecTV 616)
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Recap, Stats, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The Lobos really don't need extra motivation for Colorado State. It's Colorado State. These are the Rams who have used the Mountain West Conference -- and the Lobos -- as their personal whipping posts since the conference opened its doors in 1999.

You want to fire up the Lobos, throw this stat at `em. The Rams have beaten UNM 29 out of the past 30 matches. The Lobos haven't won in Fort Collins in 16 years. They haven't bested CSU on the scoreboard since 2005.

But here's the rub: The Lobos are at home Thursday night against the No. 13 Rams. Lobo coach Jeff Nelson also says his Lobos are playing the best ball since he took over as coach in 2007. UNM lost 3-2 to CSU last season in Johnson Center.

"In rebuilding the program, this is the one team we haven't beaten yet," said Nelson. "We are hungry to do that."

So, do the Lobos draw a line in the symbolic dirt in Johnson Center and say, "It ends here," and then back it up?

Maybe. But that's a tough statement to back up with the Rams. They have been the class of the MWC since it was formed in 1999, winning 86 percent of their league games. They have posted 16 consecutive seasons of at least 20 wins. They are 22-2 and 11-0 in the MWC coming into Johnson Center. They are road rugged and net nasty.

But don't expect the Lobos to roll over to these league Queens from Fort Collins. This game should be a Johnson Center Classic. CSU is riding a 13-game win streak and UNM sits on a five-game win streak.

It's not a match that should decide the MWC title as the Rams (11-0 MWC) probably have locked down that crown. But it could be a key match for UNM in beating out Utah for the all-important No. 2 spot in the league dash.

If the MWC turns out to be a two-team league when it comes to NCAA play, you obviously don't want to be No. 3. The Lobos are 8-3 in conference and Utah is 7-3, but the Lobos still have to visit Salt Lake City. Wyoming is within reach of the No. 2 spot at 6-5 and San Diego State is slipping at 6-6.

It really wouldn't crush the Lobos to lose to CSU -- since, so far, everybody else has, too -- but a win would be a huge breakthrough and a huge confidence builder for a UNM team already bulging with confidence.

"It's a tough match. CSU is loaded with athletes," said Nelson. "They're good setting, they have an outstanding middle, and a couple of good outside senior hitters. They'll be a lot for us to handle, but it's a match we have been looking forward to all season. I think we're ready."

The Lobo seniors definitely look ready to throw out a statement game against CSU. Lisa Meeter, Taylor Hadfield and Jade Michaelsen have established themselves as three of the top players in the MWC.

Hadfield is in the league's Top Ten in hitting percentage, kills and points. Meeter is in the Top Ten in kills, points and digs. Michaelsen in No. 2 in assists per game at 10.4.

"We are continuing to get good leadership from our seniors as we go down the stretch," said Nelson. "They`re doing a great job, all three of them, just putting up big numbers, being intense, getting after it. I think they clued in four weeks ago that they needed to pick it up and they've done a great job."

The Lobos' net work has intensified lately, which is an obvious key to winning volleyball games. But the net work comes from good work on the backside: passing and digs. The Lobos are good at setting, good with digs, good in passing, good in serving and good at killing the nice sets.

The Lobos rarely get outplayed, but sometimes they get out-talented -- or out-sized. The Lobos are not monsters at the net. UNM has two players listed at 6-foot-2: Kelly Williamson and Lexi Ross. The Rams list three players a 6-2, two Rams at 6-3 and two more at 6-4.

The net advantage probably leans to CSU, but the Rams didn't get ranked No. 13 in the nation without a few other skills to go along with blocks and kills.

"Our team is playing the best ball they have since I've been here," said Nelson. "But I also think this is the best CSU team since I've been here.

Lobo Coach Jeff Nelson


"The opportunity at home is great. I think our confidence is up, but we aren't over confident. I think (the players) really know what they need to do. Colorado State is just a really athletic team. We have to find ways to break them down a little bit."

Come One, Come All: The Lobos might not be able to beat CSU to the league throne, but the Lobos and the Rams are neck-and-neck in the league's attendance race. "We are about 25 people behind CSU in attendance," said Nelson. "It seems kind of silly but it's something we would like to get."

UNM is about 3,700 fans away from breaking the school's total attendance mark for a season, 28,190 in 1991. UNM is averaging 2,128 this season, so that mark should fall easily with three home matches left on the UNM slate.

Knock, knock, knocking on door: Two more Lobos are knocking on the door of some exclusive clubs. Michaelsen needs 37 assists to crack the door of the 4,000 Assists Club. Allison Buck is 26 digs away from the 1,000 Digs Club.

Wyoming on Saturday: OK, realistically, the Lobos could lose to CSU and it wouldn't hurt much. However, the Lobos' match Saturday against Wyoming is more in the must-win category in the race to outlast Utah for the MWC`s No. 2 spot. And Wyoming at 6-5 probably still has its eyes on the No. 2 spot.

"They are a much-improved team," said Nelson. "It's going to be a match we can't look past in our preparation for CSU. We kind of have to prepare for both because we have to take care of our business the last three weeks, so we can keep playing into December (NCAA Tournament)."

Every win the Wyoming Cowgirls add on to their season increases the program's record for wins in a season. Wyoming is 21-6 heading to TCU on Thursday.

Around The MWC Nets:

  • Lobo junior Kelly Williamson has been named to the 2010 ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-District VI Team. Teammate Jade Michaelsen made the third team. Williamson advances her name to the ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-America ballot
  • The MWC's season mark for attendance should fall Thursday. The record is 114,357, set in 2009, and the league turnstiles are at 112,039 going into this week's games.
  • UNM's Michaelsen is a candidate for Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which is based on academics, character, community service and athletic contribution.
  • Utah senior Karolina Bartkowiak became the third MWC player to join the 1,000-kill club. UNM's Lisa Meeter spiked her way into that club on Oct. 14.
  • Air Force senior Caroline Kurtz of Albuquerque is second in the MWC with 3.52 kills per set.
  • The CSU Rams have been in the AVCA Top 25 poll all season. Sophomore Megan Plourde is fifth in the nation with 1.53 blocks per set and is second in the MWC in hitting percentage with a .374 percentage.
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