Lobo Volleyball Season Preview
The University of New Mexico volleyball team begins its 28th season of competition under the tutelage of new head coach Kelley Sliva. Sliva will take the Lobos into a tough slate of competition with a core group of returning players, including five starters.
Sliva (Slee-va) replaces Tom Peterson, who accepted the head coaching position with the BYU mens volleyball program. Sliva comes to UNM after spending the past nine years at Northern Arizona University where she posted a career record of 143-104 (.579) and a 79-57 mark in the Big Sky. Slivas NAU teams scored five straight winning seasons, going 90-45 since the 1997 season.
I evaluated this decision on a professional and a personal level and knew that New Mexico was the right thing to do, said Sliva. There are so many good things in place already and it is a great opportunity and a good challenge. I saw the improvement Tom had with the team during the spring season. I know we can build upon the foundation that is there, not only athletically, but academically as well.
While at NAU, Sliva took the Lumberjacks to their first NCAA Volleyball Championship appearance (1999) and earned two Big Sky titles (1999 tournament and 2000 regular season). Sliva was named the 1999 Big Sky Coach of the Year.
Slivas enthusiasm for the game is an asset, not only for her players, but for Lobo fans as well. With experience being the key to success, then this years team hopes to improve and rebuild the program to those of years past. The new coaching staff, which includes assistants Brent Aldridge and Lynne VanderMey, feels the necessary ingredients are in place to begin the construction of a new volleyball era.
Weve made a long term commitment to the development of this program both on and off the volleyball court. This program will be built around quality young women who desire to excel in the classroom and on the court, stated Sliva. The priorities of the program are academics, volleyball and social growth. Our long term goals for these players is to get a degree, get a job and become financially independent. But at the same time were going to work, work, and work to win a conference championship.
Leading the Lobos into action this season include returning starters, seniors Kelly Griffin and Vanessa Shields, juniors Lynzie Hayes and Anna Reines, and sophomore Cayse Kaveny.
Along with seniors Staci Masten and Blaire Burns, the veterans welcome sophomore transfer Monica Meihack, from Oregon State, junior Andrea Sanchez, and freshmen Alicia Judy and Chelsea Sondrup into the fold.
The key to the Lobos offense is senior setter Kelly Griffin. Last season Griffin, who hails from San Diego, led the Lobos in three statistical categories including hitting percentage (.265), assists (774) and in digs with 220. Griffin played in all but one match for the Lobos and led the MWC with two-triple doubles (kills, assists and digs). She totals 2,096 career assists and is shy 748 to break into the UNM record books in fifth position. Look for Griffin to battle for conference honors this season.
A trio of players will counted on to dominate the middle for the Lobos including hitters Reines, Hayes and hitter/blocker Shields. The Lobos strength lies in their middle hitters and competition for playing time will focus on the three upperclassmen, sophomore Cayse Kaveny and freshman Chelsea Sondrup.
Senior Vanessa Shields, from Grover Beach, Calif., is in her fifth season with the Lobos after sitting out the 1999 season with a knee injury. Last season Shields scored 134 kills and led the team in blocking with 68 total blocks (7 solo, 61 assisted). She was one of three Lobos named the 2002 MWC All-Academic team. Shields, Reines and former defensive specialist Alex Tixier were honored for maintaining above a 3.0 grade point average and participating in 66% of the teams matches. This was the second such honor for Shields.
Making an immediate impact offensively for the Lobos was sophomore transfer Anna Reines from the University of Minnesota. Last season Reines led the Lobos in kills with 295, averaging 3.31 per game. She scored double figure kills in 15 of 25 matches last season, including nine of the last 10. Reines was the lone Lobo to be named to the LMU Volleyball Classic all-tournament team, secured by offensively scoring 50 kills in the three-match sequence.
Junior Lynzie Hayes, from Rapid City, S.D., has established herself in the middle, scoring career highs last season in total blocks with 52 (2 solo and 50 assisted) and in kills with 141. Hayes, a versatile athlete, should make some noise this season. Although troubled with knee problems, Hayes has battled through it and become a force to be reckoned with in the middle.
Senior Blaire Burns, of La Costa Canyon, Calif., has come off the bench in a variety of different capacities for the Lobos - primarily in the role of defensive specialist. Burns is also a threat as an outside hitter. She played in 89 of 90 games for the Lobos last season and scored a career high 7 service aces against Wyoming which lists second in UNM single match records. Look for Burns to compete for playing time as a defensive specialist.
Senior Staci Masten, from nearby Durango, Colo., was called off the bench in 65 games last season as a defensive specialist. Masten scored 69 digs, a career high, averaging 1.06 digs per game. She scored 17 aces last season including a career-high four against Air Force.
Stepping into the lineup as a freshman was Cayse Kaveny. Kaveny, from San Jose, Calif., was a threat not only as a blocker, but as a hitter. Kaveny earned a spot in the starting lineup midway through the season. She finished with 79 kills for a 1.04 per game average and scored a career-high 15 kills and a team season-high seven block assists against AFA. Look for Kaveny to establish herself in the middle.
New to the program is sophomore transfer from Oregon State Monica Meihack. Meihack, from Fallon, Nev., will challenge Griffin for playing time as a setter. Meihack saw limited action with the Beavers last season playing in only 11 games. She scored 42 assists for a 3.82 average. Meihack participated in spring ball with the Lobos and has established a repoire with the returning players.
Freshman Chelsea Sondrup, a 6-0 middle blocker from Lindon, Utah, played high school volleyball at Pleasant Grove High School. As a prepster, Sondrup was named 2001 state 4A Most Valuable Player and her team was crowned state champions her senior year. She received 2001 honorable mention all-america honors and was named to the all-region VII and the Utah all-star volleyball teams. Sondrup was a two-sport athlete at Pleasant Grove having played softball as well.
Andrea Sanchez is a walk-on to the Lobo Volleyball team from Los Lunas, N.M. She is the lone New Mexico native on this years roster. Will be competing for playing time at the defensive specialist positon.
Freshman Alicia Judy comes to UNM from Bloomington, Minn. Judy, a 6-1 right side hitter, comes to the Lobos from Jefferson High School in Bloomington. She was named all-Lakes Conference her senior year, honorable mention her sophomore and junior years. Judy also lettered in track.
The schedule, as usual, does not beg away from competition. It is difficult and should test the Lobos will and determination to achieve success. The season starts off with four tournaments to begin the non-conference schedule. Of the teams UNM will face this season, seven teams participated in the 2002 NCAA Womens Volleyball championship including Pepperdine, Arizona, UCLA, and conference foes BYU, Utah, SDSU, and CSU.
We have a great schedule, admitted Sliva. When I look at our non-conference schedule, we obviously have three or four opponents that I think are in the top-10, top-15 in the country. But at the same time, I look at our other opponents and we, if we are playing to our potential, have a chance to beat.
Weve set goals that we feel our team is prepared to meet, said Sliva. Our goal right now heading into the season is to get to know the players, have a clear understanding of what they can do, and create a team identity.
Expectations are always high for any athletic program, volleyball is no exception. The Lobos have struggled the last few years with coaching changes and poor records. UNM looks to Sliva to point them in the right direction to rebuild, and refocus. With the talent on the team, look for the Lobos to reach for new plateaus.