Aug. 10, 2009
2008 record: 22-7 (11-5 MWC)
Letterwinners back: 10
Starters back: 4
Season opener: Aug. 28-29, MCM Elegante Lobo Classic, Johnson Center
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Coach Jeff Nelson and his Lobo volleyball players have a not-so-subtle message for any and all opponents who will stand across a net from these Lobos during the 2009 season: We're for real.
"There are some people who think we have earned our respect, but there are still some people who think we are a fluke, that we haven't earned it," said Nelson. "We're going to use that. We're going to put that in our players' heads."
The next step is an obvious one for these hungry and talented Lobos: Work your rears off and earn that respect on the court during the 2009 season. Show the doubters that University of New Mexico volleyball is now a free-flowing program and not merely a team that relied on Jeanne Fairchild spikes to carry them over the past two seasons.
Nelson isn't worried. "I like this team," he said. "This team has more depth and more balance. We are deep in every position beyond the starting lineup."
Still, don't you have to look at this season as kind of a rebuilding season or at least a season of reload? Hey, coach, you lost arguably the best net player in UNM history. You lost one of the top liberos ever in Gayle Tripp. And Sarah Kwasigroch provided solid all-around play and additional leadership.
No big deal, says Nelson. "Sure, we obviously lost a lot in Jeanne, Gayle and Sarah," he said. "But I don't think we'll skip a beat. I think you'll see some players step up and I expect us to be a better team this year."
The Lobos obviously lost some leadership on the court from 2008, but they obviously return a star in setter Jade Michaelsen, who was named the Mountain West Conference Preseason Co-Volleyball Player of the Year, along with Colorado State's Tessa Nelson.
Michaelsen, a 2008 All-MWC performer, is beyond good. The junior finished 28th in the NCAA in assists per game (10.92) last season. "The only reason I am being honored is because my team put me in a position to be successful," said Michaelsen.
Sure, there is some truth to that statement, but Michaelsen also put a lot of Lobos in position to be successful with her skills in setting. In 2008, most of those sets went to Fairchild. This season Michaelsen will be spreading the ball around the court a bit more.
LOBOS 2009 ROSTER
"It will be easier on Jade this year because she'll have more options that she is comfortable with. That's where our depth comes in. We will have seven or eight or nine players contributing instead of three or four."
That also means several Lobos need to step up their games in 2009. Fairchild's bombs at the net were important to the success of last year's team, but her loss also means more Lobos will have more opportunities to shine at the net.
There were five Lobos who proved themselves at the net last year in Anna Lehne, Lisa Meeter, Rose Morris, Taylor Hadfield and Allie Suiter. There also is young potential at the net such as 6-foot freshman Chantale Riddle of Roswell, N.M.
Fairchild averaged 4.8 kills-per-set in 2008. The Lehne-Meeter-Morris-Hadfield-Suiter combo averaged 8.8. There is death by committee at the Lobo net if Michaelsen can find the right guns - and if those guns come through.
"We have so many players who are hungry to step up and hungry to succeed," said Nelson. "Lisa (Meeter) is disappointed with last year. She is hungry. She fought some injuries and I know she thinks she is capable of better numbers.
"There are so many girls who have worked hard to improve: Rose Morris, Allison Buck, Ashley Rhoades, Taylor Hadfield, Allie Suiter, Anna Lehne. I can name them all because they all are working so hard to have a great season. When you add that to a great quarterback like Jade, you are optimistic about having a great year."
The Lobos under Nelson have improved each season, but the UNM coach, whose contract was extended to 2017, still has a few steps he would like to make - soon.
"We want to win the conference and we want to go to the NCAAs," said Nelson. "There's nothing wrong with saying that. We have expectations of moving forward.
"Our players here have dealt with more pressure and more success and I think the players and the program are stronger. I am so proud of what they have accomplished on the court, academically, as citizens. Now, we want and we expect another great season."