Sept. 15, 2009
Who: TCU at Lobos
When/Where: 7: p.m. Wednesday, Johnson Center
Online: GameTracker; Live Broadcast on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Since it's an injured pinkie finger that has Rose Morris on the Lobo bench and not laryngitis, Lobo coach Jeff Nelson expects his senior captain to be loud and vocal Wednesday night when the TCU Horned Frogs come visiting.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that Nelson wants Morris to be heard.
Confused? Well, you won't be if you jump into the Johnson Center jam session Wednesday night for the Mountain West Conference game between Lobos and Frogs.
It's Greek Night and Lobo League Night and Nelson is hoping the Lobos' raucous home-court advantage is at a high level for UNM's MWC opener. He probably will get his wish.
For the first time since 1996, the high-flying Lobos have lured in more than 1,000 fans for each of their first six home matches. You add in the expected rowdies from the UNM's Greek community, and the Frogs might not even be able to hear themselves croak on Wednesday night.
And maybe even Morris' strong voice will be lost in the roar.
"Our crowd is important to us," said Nelson. "We work hard to get fans to our game and we want them to know how important they are to us.
"Greek Night is always a fun night. They do a good job of supporting us. Our players like playing in front of a crowd. It's really enjoyable for them."
The Frogs' visit is an important game for the Lobos, too. Hey, this is conference time. One of UNM's goal is to win the MWC title. The formula leading to that crown is similar to any other title chase. You beat the average league teams on the road. You look for a couple of road wins against the quality teams in your league.
You defend your home court like a mean, mother bear.
Nelson's Lobos were picked in the MWC preseason poll to finish third behind Utah and Colorado State. UNM's Jade Michaelsen was Co-Preseason Player of The Year, but much of the respect given to these Lobos is because of the balance and depth on the 2009 roster.
That depth needs to kick in against the Frogs. The Lobos lost a lot of talent and determination with Morris on the bench for approximately three weeks while stitches in her pinkie finger heal.
Nelson's solution: win by committee. Kelly Williamson, a 6-foot-2, sophomore hitter, is the first Lobo from the committee to get the call.
"We'll have to make a few adjustments with a new player in the lineup," said Nelson. "I don't think it's something that will hurt us or lower our level at all. One of our strengths is our depth and that strength just has to step up now.
"I think Kelly will do a really good job. I'm just glad we have the depth this year that we didn't have in the past."
The Lobos are 7-1 on the season. TCU is 8-3. UNM is 5-0 against TCU in Johnson Center, including a 3-0 win last season. The Frogs are led by senior Kourtney Edwards, one of the top net players in the MWC. She leads TCU with 3.17 kills and 1.12 blocks per set.
The Lobos already are making some national noise in RPI rankings. The unofficial RichKern.com RPI list has UNM in the No. 14 spot. The Lobos' Pablo ranking is No. 20. The Lobos have a chance to improve those marks this weekend in the Arizona Invitational when they play UTEP, Tulane and No. 21-ranked Arizona.
The Lobos' goal is to grab the NCAA automatic bid that goes to the MWC champion. But Nelson also is savvy enough to keep his RPI high enough to attract an at-large bid in case the league crown slips away.
"We're at the point in our program where we are always trying to play teams in the Top 100, but we also want to play four or five matches against teams in the Top 20," said Nelson.
"Our team is more experienced and it's important for us to play those quality teams. We also want to bring good teams into Johnson Center to help us with our crowds.
"We want our crowds to know they can come to our games and watch quality volleyball. Our goal is to get into the Top 20 permanently and to do that you have to play those teams."
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