Dec. 13, 2010
LOBO VOLLEYBALL - 2010 SEASON REVIEW
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobos' volleyball season of 2010 is a flash of brilliant memories, many provided by three special seniors, who also helped strengthen the foundation of a New Mexico program that continues to climb the ladder of NCAA volleyball.
The Lobos have lost a lot. These seniors depart the program as four-year starters, but leave behind a legacy of production and promise because of the skills and leadership they lent to this program.
"The program is back in the NCAA, back on the national map, and these three seniors did so much to help us get there," said Lobo coach Jeff Nelson. "We threw a difficult schedule at these girls and they used it to improve, gain confidence and accomplish things we needed to accomplish in able to keep moving forward."
The New Mexico goals for the 2010 season were highlighted by one teasing carrot that proved to be just beyond the Lobos' reach and another goal, the NCAA Tournament, that UNM easily reached for the second straight season.
For sure, a major highlight of the season was returning to the NCAA Tournament and establishing themselves as one of the nation's 64 elite.
The Lobos took solid aim at the 2010 Mountain West Conference title and had to settle for the No. 2 spot in a balanced and talented league that once again proved to be the domain of the Colorado State Rams.
But the Rams found out that the Lobos will not go down easy.
There can be no question as to the match that put the Lobos on Cloud Nine while knocking a nagging monkey of doubt off UNM's back. The No. 13 ranked Colorado State Rams strolled into Johnson Center having hammered the Lobos 29 out of the past 30 matches.
This time it was Rams who got the hammer as UNM rallying from a 13-5 hole in Game One to stun CSU in a 3-0 Lobo rout.
The Lobos' win came with a flurry of all-around play that marked this UNM team throughout the season. UNM outplayed CSU in almost every aspect of the game including precision passing, bold digs from the back row, timely serving, and aggressive play at the net.
"I think we were tired of the same regime we always give them. We wanted to push back," said senior Lisa Meeter after the win.
Said senior Jade Michaelsen: "We had to go out there and be aggressive and take risks and that's what we did."
Actually, the Lobos' season began with a risk. Nelson knew in order to take his Lobos in the direction he wants to move this program - in order to become a serious challenge to CSU -- he had to challenge his Lobos in the non-conference schedule.
So, the Lobo coach threw his most difficult schedule ever at his Lobos. "We have taken it up three notches," he said before the season.
The Lobos took an early beating battling through the heart of that schedule, losing four straight to Stanford, Michigan State, Southern California and Hawaii. Nelson even questioned that maybe he bit off more than his Lobos could chew.
But they didn't roll over. They didn't lose confidence. The Lobos came back to win eight of 10, including a dramatic 3-2 win over New Mexico State in Johnson Center. The Lobos then lost at TCU, won at Wyoming and lost at CSU before winning nine of 10 to close out the regular season.
It's possible that had not UNM been challenged early, the Lobos might not have rallied from that 13-5 hole to CSU, might not have beaten CSU, and might not have won the key road games needed to grab runner-up honors in the MWC. UNM finished the season 20-10 and the Lobos' 12-4 league record was a UNM high for MWC wins.
One area that obviously was a clear-cut winner regarding UNM's schedule was the gate at Johnson Center. Nelson said the grueling schedule wasn't just a test for his Lobos, but was a reward for the Lobo fans that make Lobo volleyball one of the more popular programs in the nation.
The Lobos opened the season with a monster crowd of 3,831 for UNM's match with the Stanford Cardinal. They closed the season with a gate of 2,408 for Senior Day against San Diego State and also had a massive 3,478 crowd for Wyoming's visit.
The Lobos led the MWC in average attendance at 2,212 to edge out CSU's average gate of 2,180. The Lobos had 33,181 fans flow into Johnson Center and that 2,212 average was good for the No. 12 spot nationally. CSU was No. 14.
The Lobos appeared to be a lock for a NCAA at-large bid, but there was a little sweating done during the Selection Show. The Lobos were pulled into the final of four brackets announced on ESPNews.
"They tortured us `til the last bracket," said Michaelsen.
The Lobos didn't exactly get a break in the NCAA bracket. They were paired with No. 6 seed Southern California, an NCAA powerhouse featuring a front line that rolled out bodies going 6-5, 6-4, 6-4 and 6-3. UNM lost, 3-0, and USC marched on to the NCAA Final Four in Kansas City.
If anything, the loss to USC only reminded the Lobos of the direction they are going and the direction they play to continue going - Up!
Here are a few other highlights of UNM's 2010 season:
Michaelsen and Meeter were two of four Mountain West players named honorable mention All-America selections by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.