Lobo banquet: 5 p.m., Saturday (Feb 1) at New Mexico Juniors Volleyball Facility; 4382 Alexander Blvd. NE. . Tickets available at the door. Cost $25. Banquet info call: 505-277-0102.
New Mexico Lobos Volleyball – 2013 Season Review
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
There was really no riddle to solve in figuring out how to slow down Jeff Nelson’s Lobo volleyball team in 2013. Well, no mystery at the beginning of it all.
The opposition had to figure out a way to slow down All-American Chantale Riddle, who went into her junior year targeted as one of the more dangerous smash-mouth netters in the game.
The task of stopping Riddle was difficult enough for any front line. And then it got even more difficult for New Mexico opponents because a whole lot of other – and young – Lobos raised their games to high levels.
Sure, it was a UNM team led by a star up front and a savvy senior on the back row (Miquella Lovato), but like all athletic teams these Lobos were not going to go anywhere unless they came together as a cohesive unit embracing a shared goal: to be excellent.
Riddle was wet-leather tough. The New Mexico team was tougher. Senior Miquella Lovato was no surprise because she had been excellent as a junior and was expected to throw out another All-Mountain West performance in 2013. And she did. Nelson also had strong splashes of talent and experience returning from a solid 2012 team.
But what would all these young Lobos do in 2013? Would they mesh? Would they be fierce? Would they buckle to the long grind and harsh demands of a D-I season?
Here’s one answer: Nelson’s 2013 Lobos finished 24-7 which is the most wins by the program since 1988.
Here’s another answer: The Lobos matched their highest finish in the Mountain West finishing second to a sizzling Colorado State team that rolled out a program-record 28-2 mark (19-1 in MW). UNM’s 14 league wins is the most in Lobo history.
Here’s a third answer: Nelson’s Lobos won .774 percent of their games – the highest Nelson win percentage in 18 seasons as a head coach.
“There is no question this was a special season for us,” said Nelson. “They posted a great record and that speaks to our leadership and the drive the kids have to excel and compete. Everyone involved with this program is so proud of the accomplishments of this group. They have put up some huge numbers and broken some records.
“They also have set a standard for what is expected next season.”
Nelson went into the 2013 season expecting quite a few things. He knew he had a core of proven ability, especially behind Riddle and Lovato and also behind sophomore setter, Hannah Johnson. He knew he had athletes who were aggressive and quick.
But he also knew he had a lot of youth and youth is mostly potential until you see what it can do on the court against other D-1 talent. Nelson saw good things on the court. The freshman class touted as UNM’s “best ever” turned potential into points and victories.
It’s impossible to reflect back on the 2013 season and not mesmerize on the talent and the stats smashed out by Riddle. She was vicious at the net – a finisher with 468 kills. Do you think the Lobos’ opponents didn’t know where the heat would be coming from on UNM’s side of the net? Riddle had 1,203 attempts. The next most active UNM attacker was Julia Warren with 618 attacks.
Riddle also played defense. She had 240 digs and 104 blocks. She produced 544 points for UNM. Lexi Ross was next with 302 points off 222 kills, 120 blocks and 57 digs.
“Chantale had another exceptional year for us,” said Nelson. “Everybody looks at her kills and how dynamic a force she is at the net, but she is one of the more complete, all-around players in the nation. We are so excited to have her back for one more year. She is such an amazing athlete.”
Riddle’s net kills actually went down in 2013 from the 515 she smashed in 2012. This was because there was nice balance for Nelson along the front line. He had Ross with 222 kills, Warren with 222, Cassie House with 218 and Skye Gullatt with 111 kills plus 110 blocks. Warren had 231 digs. Nelson’s front line was bulging with talent.
Johnson was outstanding as a setter floating up 1,220 assists (third all-time on the UNM single-season list). “Hannah is a truly complete setter,” said Coach Nelson. “She digs, blocks, and runs the show for our team.”
Johnson joined Lovato as rocks on the back line. Lovato topped the team with 537 digs followed by Johnson with 324. The backline had depth in Lena Skipper with 134 digs and Maddie Mayfield with 109. Johnson also was in on 75 blocks.
The talent on the Lobos’ squad was reflected in the selection of the All-Mountain West Team. UNM placed Riddle, Warren, Johnson and Lovato on that team and Warren was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year. UNM tied CSU with four players on the squad.
Lovato, a 5-foot-2 libero from Pojoaque, finished second in the Mountain West with 537 digs -- a total that puts her second on the UNM single-season list. Her 14 aces were third on the team, and her 105 assists were second. For her career, Lovato finished with 1,397 digs, putting her fourth on the career UNM list.
Riddle, who led the Mountain West in kills and points, also was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Pacific South Region Team and was Third Team AVCA All-American. She is the seventh New Mexico player to earn AVCA All-America honors and the first since 2008 when Jeanne Fairchild was named Third Team.
Riddle will take 1,182 kills into her senior year and is only 397 off the program’s record of 1,579.
“Chantale is so deserving of All-Amercan honors,” said Coach Nelson. “She has been the premier offensive player in our conference for two seasons and we expect her to take her game to even another level in her senior year.
“I am so proud of my entire team for the great season they put together and for being tough at the end of the year with some injuries and still winning and coming up second in the Mountain West,” said Nelson. “The girls have so much to be proud of.”
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.