March 29, 2012
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
You could throw out two theories of thought on why the New Mexico Alumni pounded the current Jeff Nelson Lobos 25-17 in the final set Thursday night at the Lobo/Alumni game held in Johnson Center.
1. It took the old gals that long to warm up.
2. The current Lobos decided to let the old Lobos win a game so everyone could go eat.
"Hey, we had some good games and we won the last one," said ex-Lobo Jeanne Fairchild, a former UNM All-American. "We had a really good team this year and it was really fun. We get about an hour of practice and it's tough.
"There are only a few times now I can get out on the court and play competitive volleyball and these (alumni games) are one of those times. When you get on the court with these girls, it brings it out in you. It's really fun."
Said Nelson: "They had a really good squad and I thought we might take it on the chin. They were big and physical and really a great group."
If you looked a pure talent and experience, yeah, the Lobo Alumni might have had the edge. They had Fairchild, Kelly Williamson, Taylor Hadfield, Allison Buck and Pauline Manser, the program's only two-time All-American and a former Olympian.
"The biggest thing was our passing and passing is the key to volleyball," said Nelson of his squad's 25-16, 25-23, 25-20, 17-25 win.
"This is a feel-good match for everyone, but for the young girls in the program, it's their first chance to get out there without their seniors. They were nervous. In the end, I liked what we did. We played ball tonight.
"Ashley Newman had a great match and Chantale Riddle was flying all over the place with big blocks and big kills. I was pleased with the way our young kids stepped up and stayed tough and played good volleyball."
Probably the highlight of the night was the presence of Manser, who will be the guest speaker Friday (March 30) at the Lobo Volleyball Banquet to be held at the Sheraton Airport Hotel.
Manser came to UNM from Perth, Australia and lettered in volleyball at New Mexico from 1987-to-1991. She led UNM to a 12-0 Western Athletic Conference record and a WAC title. She was the WAC Player of The Year in 1991.
"It's awesome to be back," said Manser, who more than held her own on the court Thursday. "It's been 13 years since I've been back and when I got off the plane on Sunday, it felt like home.
"I wasn't sure how it would be, but it's exciting and brings back so many good memories from my playing days. It's been fantastic."
After her playing days at UNM, Manser played in the German Professional League, and was also a member of the World Beach Volleyball Australian Team for 10 years (1986-96). She won a silver medal at the 1998 Goodwill Games and finished fifth at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney as part of the Australian beach volleyball team.
"I still play a bit, mostly beach," said Manser. "My knees don't handle indoor very well these days. I enjoyed the opportunity to have a bit of a hit. My body is a little bit older now, so it's harder to get around."
Manser said her visit to Albuquerque after a 13-year hiatus came from the urge to "swing by" on her way to South America. Yeah, that's quite a detour, but the call of college roots can be a strong one.
And Nelson was persistent in bringing UNM's most decorated volleyball player back to Johnson Center.
"It's so great to have her speak at the banquet and be a part of this weekend," said Nelson. "It's a great opportunity to have the kids meet and hear from our most famous alumni.
"I saw her play in college. She was amazing. It's good for me to just sit and talk to her about volleyball and her Olympic experience."
Manser, who coaches the Australian Women's National Team, said there are two big differences in college volleyball today and the college volleyball of 1987-91.
"It's more professional, more organized now," she said. "Teams and players have much more at their disposal than we did. The kids seem to come into college with a lot more experience than we did. But the game itself is very similar. Not much has changed there.
"The kids are taller now. I was one of the taller players at my time. At this (alumni) game, it seemed everyone was taller than me."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org