New Mexico Lobos Volleyball – 2014 Season Preview
Lobo Classic – Friday, Saturday (Aug. 29-30) – Johnson Center
Friday: 10:30 a.m., Texas vs. UTEP; 1 p.m., Lobos vs. Seattle; 5 p.m., UTEP vs. Seattle; 7:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Texas.
Saturday: 1 p.m., Lobos vs. UTEP; 3:30 p.m., Texas vs. Seattle.
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobo talk and the Lobo expectations have hit the court with the certainty and the boldness of a Chantale Riddle kill shot. There is no doubt what the University of New Mexico Lobos volleyball team expects to achieve in 2014.
A Mountain West Championship.
A berth in the 2014 NCAA bracket.
“This has the potential to be maybe the greatest season in long, long time here,” said Lobo Coach Jeff Nelson.
Now, Nelson’s Lobos need to walk the walk – and dig and spike and serve and pass and work and bond – and win.
“This is our year. This is our year to put New Mexico on the map,” said sophomore Julia Warren.
Said Hannah Johnson: “We have kind of linked in and are believing that we can make this one of the best seasons ever.”
There is no reason to doubt this group of Lobos because there is so much to like – and believe in. The name Chantale Riddle tops the list of the huge hunk of talent that Nelson is working with in 2014.
Riddle is a two-time All-American, who has led the Mountain West in back-to-back seasons in kills. She is the league’s preseason pick for Player of the Year honors. She is a beast at the net.
The 6-foot senior provides all-around leadership, kills and is an exceptional defender for a net monster.
“I know I need to push a little harder,” said Riddle. “I know I need to work harder than any other player in the conference to help my team get to the next level.”
The next level for most teams in the Mountain West begins with slipping past Colorado State and on to the MW throne. It’s a lofty goal based on MW history. The Rams are the five-time defending champions and return five starters. They guard their throne like a junkyard dog hovering over a soup bone.
“We are ready to make a run at the conference championship,” said Nelson. “We have some pretty lofty goals.”
Nelson returns nine letterwinners and Ashley Kelsey, who missed two seasons due to injury. The Lobos lost Lena Skipper, Lexi Ross and Miquella Lovato, who left the biggest hole in that trio with her hustling defense (532 digs).
But the Lobos return 468 kills from Riddle, 222 kills from Warren and 218 kills from Cassie House. The Lobos will be nasty at the net, but this isn’t just a team of front-line Lobos. There is balance. There is depth.
Johnson, Riddle and Warren had 324, 240 and 231 digs, respectively. Maddie Mayfield had 109 digs in 2013 and Skye Gullatt had 110 total blocks last year plus 111 kills.
“I think we are as deep as a team can hope to be,” said Nelson. “We’re very excited about what people are doing. There is lots of competition and lots of depth in every position.”
Riddle is the only three-year letterwinner and the only senior on the squad. Johnson, Elsa Krieg and Skye Gullatt have lettered in two previous seasons. Warren, Lise Rugland, House, Devanne Sours, and Maddie Mayfield are sophomores who lettered as freshmen.
Johnson and Warren were All-MW and Warren was the league’s Freshman of the Year. Johnson has 1,220 assists in 2013.
“We are just so deep in every position,” said Warren. “It raises the level in the gym every time we step on the court. I’ve never been in a gym with this high of a level.”
Said Johnson: “I think we put pressure on ourselves just knowing how much talent we have.”
Really, this is a young New Mexico team. Nelson has eight players who are looking at their first season of competition at UNM including Kelsey and JC All-American transfer Simone Henderson. “She really hits a heavy ball,” Nelson said of Henderson. “She is really getting up and banging balls.”
The tallest freshman – and Lobo – is 6-foot-5 Victoria Spragg from Belen, who gives UNM a tall and agile middle blocker. “She has a great shot at getting a lot of playing time this year,” said Nelson.
Nelson obviously is high on this team and he also has challenged them with an aggressive schedule that should produce a solid RPI and a NCAA at-large bid -- if the MW title doesn’t come to Johnson Center.
“We are starting with a bang, but I think we are really ready for it,” said Nelson, whose Lobos will play No. 2 Texas this Friday in Johnson Center.
Nelson doesn’t argue that CSU should be favored to win the MW title, but he thinks his Lobos have all the right stuff to steal away that throne – including all-important chemistry.
“This team has a lot of kids who are really close,” said Nelson. “We had great chemistry last year and it’s ever better this year. That plays a big role in what happens.
“We have a group that really looks out for each other. I think we are in a really good place.”
New Mexico Lobos Volleyball 2014 Season Roster
|Hometown (Prev School)|
|1||Devanne Sours||OH||6-2||So.||1L||Tatum, N.M. (Tatum HS)|
|2||Hannah Johnson||S||5-11||RJr.||2L||Longview, Wash. (R.A. Long HS)|
|3||Chantale Riddle||RS||6-0||RSr.||3L||Roswell, N.M. (Roswell HS)|
|4||Samantha Sofka||OH||5-8||Fr.||HS||Farmington, N.M. (Piedra Vista HS)|
|5||Julia Warren||OH||6-1||So.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)|
|7||Victoria Spragg||MB||6-5||Fr.||HS||Belen, N.M. (Belen HS)|
|8||Ashley Kelsey||OH||6-0||RFr.||RS||Ewa Beach, Hawai'i (James Campbell HS)|
|9||Simone Henderson||MB||6-0||Jr.||TR||Palm Springs, Calif. (Grossmont College) (La Quinta HS)|
|10||Taylor Cross||DS||5-7||Fr.||HS||Colorado Springs, Colo. (Pine Creek HS )|
|11||Lise Rugland||S||5-9||So.||1L||Tananger, Norway (Sauda Vidergaende Skole, dept. ToppVolley Norway)|
|12||Cassie House||OH/MB||6-2||So.||1L||Rio Rancho, N.M. (Cleveland HS)|
|13||Keaton Alley||S||5-10||Fr.||HS||Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. (Palos Verdes HS)|
|14||Stephanie Chavez||DS||5-4||Fr.||HS||Bedford, Texas (Nolan Catholic HS)|
|16||Elsa Krieg||MB||6-2||RJr.||2L||Granby, Colo. (Middle Park HS)|
|17||Skye Gullatt||MB||5-11||Jr.||2L||Denver, Colo. (Smoky Hill HS)|
|18||Maddie Mayfield||DS||5-4||So.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)|
|21||Mariessa Carrasco||MB||6-0||Fr.||HS||El Paso, Texas (Chapin HS)|