Oct. 12, 2009
Tuesday: Lobos at NMSU, 7 p.m., Pan American Center
Online: GameTracker, results on GoLobos.com
On TV: Live on Comcast (channels 10, 77)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In the motivation department, it's arguable who wants this match the most - Lobos or Aggies. Probably, it's a wash.
Aggies aren't that fond of Lobos. Lobos don't have too many Aggies on their Christmas list. There is the school pride thing, the New Mexico turf thing, and on and on.
These Lobo and Aggie net athletes might be a little more civil when it comes to winning and losing, but the "want-it" factor is sky high on a gut level. Yeah, it's a bit personal.
"Anytime you play a rivalry game, you can wipe out who's better, who's not," said Lobo coach Jeff Nelson. "It comes down to fight, and playing hard and staying composed under pressure."
Said Lobo senior Rose Morris, a product of Albuquerque Sandia High: "It's exactly the same for us as it is in football and basketball. We are fired up for this game. Being a local kid, we want to be considered the best volleyball team in the state and that's fuel for our fire.
"You never want to be a Lobo team that loses to the Aggies."
OK, Aggies feel the same way, so eventually other things come into play: focus, execution, teamwork, poise, controlled energy, drive, etc.
There also is a "need" factor that should surface when the Lobos visit the NMSU Pan American Center. The Lobos could use a win over another quality team. The Aggies need a quality win, period.
"It's a battle every year," said Morris. "We don't go down easily and they are tough girls and they don't go down easily either. They need this match and they'll have a lot of motivation just like we do."
Coach Nelson expects 12-year NMSU coach Mike Jordan to be firing that "need" factor in his Aggies' face right up to the first serve. The Aggies are an NCAA-quality program. This year they are dancing near the bubble's edge.
"This is one of their last chances to play and beat a quality opponent and they need this game," said Nelson. "I expect them to be really emotional and to come after us really hard.
"But it's important to us, too. We have a chance to get another win over a quality opponent on the road."
The Lobos have that need, but they also have a want: to establish UNM as the dominant volleyball power in the state. That mission needs some work - and some wins.
The 10-5 Aggies have won 13 of the past 14 matches and ride a 10-game win streak over the Lobos. NMSU came to Johnson Center last season and posted a tough 3-2 win. Nelson's Lobos are closing the gap, but can they slam the door on the Aggies on NMSU turf? The Lobos have not won in Cruces since 1989.
"The girls are aware of the rivalry aspect, but it's not something we focus our season on," said Nelson. "Our priority is to get into postseason. What makes this game important is the difference between winning and losing. We are going down there to win."
Nelson's Lobos are coming off a huge road win at Utah. New Mexico snapped a 13-year losing streak in Salt Lake City with a 3-1 win, which was the produce of focus, execution and energy. That win followed a 3-0 loss at Brigham Young.
"I took two teams up there," said Nelson of the Mountain West Conference swing through Utah. "We played like we thought BYU would roll over and they didn't. We had a long talk. Some people were angry. There were some tears."
Said Morris, who paces UNM with 2.66 kills per set: "It's not a feeling you ever want to feel and you definitely don't want to feel it again. We made a commitment at Utah to give it all we have and leave everything on the floor."
Nelson said the team that snapped the 13-year losing streak at Utah was "like Jekyll and Hyde, night and day," from the one that lost in Provo.
"At Utah," he said, "we took control from the beginning and stayed in control. We talked about them being willing to take some risks and not being afraid to fail.
"When our team comes out focused and energetic and sticks to our game plan, we've been really good. We have to do that (at NMSU). We have to play well in order to have a chance to win down there