By Albert Luna
The New Mexico State women’s volleyball team started their home schedule in dramatic fashion on Thursday night, coming down to a nail-biting fifth set that ended in defeat for the Aggies.
The women, who were 5-2 coming into the matchup, went up against an Oklahoma team that was far better than their 2-4 record suggested. The Aggies were coming in with a respectable résumé thus far in their own right, with only two previous losses, coming at the hands of two top-25 opponents: number 10 Arizona State and number 25 Texas A&M.
This game, along with being the home opener for the team, also coincided with the opening game of the Borderland Classic, a tournament the Aggies are hosting through Saturday, September 12. Through the first two sets of play in the match, however, it seemed that Oklahoma was the team that had a winning a record and gave AA fight against those quality opponents.
The Sooners came out aggressive in the first set, which was a stark contrast to the Aggies’ timid play. NMSU quickly found itself in a sizeable hole, struggling to find their pace, which resulted in an 11-6 mark to start.
Although they were able to cut it down at one point to a three-point deficit, the Aggies consciously missed out on a number of dig opportunities, resulting in a 25-16 set final in favor of the visiting team.
“I thought we were a little bit too hyped and we needed to calm down a bit,” says Mike Jordan, NMSU head volleyball coach, of the first set. “We made some adjustments defensively and got a little bit better.”
Already, in a tough position, the Aggies came out with more effort in the second set, but simply not enough for to overcome the opponent. Throughout the second set, NMSU was always close in the rearview mirror, even taking the lead once, only by one point however.
At one point, the Aggies were down only one, 23-22, forcing Oklahoma to call timeout. The next two points went in favor of the Sooners and NMSU went into break down two sets to none.
“Coach told us at half time to take a breath and start making some plays,” says Aggie senior middle blocker Gwen Murphy.
They certainly responded well. With the women down to their last set, the comeback began. Murphy and Tatyana Battle, an outside hitter, combined to lead the way for the Aggies as they came out firing on all cylinders.
Battle and Murphy combined for nine kills in the set, which was capped off by two kills in a row for Murphy that gave insurance for the Aggies after the Sooners closed the gap. The Aggies held off a late surge by Oklahoma to close the set out 25-19, forcing a fourth set. Even with the teams switching sides and starting a new set, the momentum stayed in favor of the Aggies, going up after being tied 5-5 and not looking back.
The home team would take the set 25-17 to set up a grand finale that looked poised to have NMSU labeling the game a complete comeback.
“We finally tightened up some of our defensive lapses and it showed in those third and fourt, sets just what we’re capable of,” Jordan says.
The comeback brought the crowd of 2,206 to their feet as the two teams were toe-to-toe virtually in every facet of the set. When Oklahoma took a 13-11 lead late (fourth sets are played until 15 points), the Aggies responded nicely with two points of their own, including an impressively powerful kill from Murphy to nod it at 13 all.
However, the comeback would fall short as the Sooners would earn the next two points and crush the Aggies’ chances.
“This is a tough pill to swallow,” Jordan says. “We were right there after getting off to a rough start.”
The coach says his team will benefit from these close losses and learn to play with consistency.
“We had enough to close this out but we came up short,” he says. “That’s okay, we’ll learn.”
This season for the Aggies is expected to be exceptional. They will next face off at 11 a.m. Friday, September 11, against Robert Morris, before hosting Brown later at 7 for the night matchup. NMSU will also face Denver to wrap up the invitational on Saturday at noon.
Follow @RoundUp_Sports, https://twitter.com/RoundUp_Sports, on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates during games.