By Albert Luna
The New Mexico State Aggies volleyball team was able to come back late and beat the Seattle University Red Hawks in five sets to keep their perfect WAC record alive Saturday afternoon in the Pan American Center.
The Aggies came into the game with their undefeated conference record (6-0) on the line. Seattle came in 3-2 and in a four-way tie for second place.
The Aggies started off the game a little weak, overshooting three of their first four hits to make it a quick 3-1 hole. Seattle, which has been pegged as a very physical team, looked every bit the part of the aggressor. NMSU, which as of late has enjoyed much success in the opening sets at home, was unable to set the tone as they are accustomed to, struggling with finding consistency early through the first set.
The Aggies called a timeout when the Red Hawks cut the lead to just one, 13-12. The Aggies were still unable to shake loose of Seattle, as they came back down the stretch to tie it at 17-all before eventually taking the lead, 18-17, prompting Jordan to call another timeout.
A Bradley Nash-kill coming out of the timeout helped NMSU gain a little momentum. After going up by as much as two, 20-18, SU came back to take the lead at 23-21. The Red Hawks wouldn’t see another point, as NMSU reeled off the next four points of the game to take yhe set in dramatic fashion, 25-23 after an impressive Kaylee Neal-dig.
The Aggies switched sides to begin the second set, looking to go into the halftime break with a dominating lead. The second set started very similarly to its predecessor in that the Aggies would start off in the lead but would have to constantly deal with SU in their rearview mirror.
NMSU found themselves at a 10-10 tie early in the crucial set, mostly due to some serves that were simply off the mark. NMSU called a timeout down 12-10. The Aggies found themselves still neck-and-neck with the Red Hawks, but Seattle was able to use some sloppy play by the Aggies to sneak out of the half with a set win, 25-22.
“We had trouble with their serving game, and they’re the best serving team in the conference,” says NMSU Coach Mike Jordan.
NMSU found itself in a big deficit early in the third set with the game looking to quickly get away from them, down at one point 15-6. Again, the Aggies struggled with consistency and simply did not seem to be hitting the ball with a purpose.
The Red Hawks completely dominated the Aggies in the set, forcing the Aggies to make mistake after mistake. Jordan began to slowly empty his bench in the set, giving some run to players who had not seen much action up to that point.
The Aggies came within 10 but would succumb to the large lead, dropping the set 25-14.
“Bad passing leads to bad sets, which lead to bad swings, which lead to errors,” Jordan says.
The perfect conference record seemed to be coming to an end as the Aggies trailed by almost seven points midway through the fourth set. However, Taylor Livoti and Kaylee Neal were able to step it up defensively and provided key digs and assists, respectively, to put NMSU up 23-16 at one point, with Seattle wanting to call time.
Nathalie Castellanos was also able to find a rhythm in the fourth set, providing two key kills down the stretch. An Andrea Tauai-kill propelled the Aggies to a decisive fifth set, winning the fourth set, 25-18.
“I thought she (Tauai) stepped up big today,” Jordan sayd. “She got herself some nice kills.”
The fifth set, which only goes up to 15 points, started off to the Aggies liking, taking a quick 4-0 lead which clearly helped NMSU regain their confidence. This prompted Seattle to use a timeout of their own. The Aggies only showed more of the same coming out of the timeout, although Seattle was clearly not going anywhere.
The Red Hawks cut the lead to 10-8 down the stretch, setting up an exciting finish. Despite NMSU only being up 14-13 at one point, the Aggies pulled off the comeback with a Bradley Nash-kill, winning 15-13 and the match 3-2.
“Sometimes it takes time” Jordan says. “I’m happy we won but I’m not happy with the way that we played.”
The Aggies have now completed the first leg of WAC play undefeated at 7-0. The team will next be in action on Tuesday, October 20, against rival UTEP for a quick break in conference play. Jordan says he is excited to play UTEP and to begin the second half of WAC play.
“Rivalry games are always fun,” he says. “Glad it’s a home game, we’ll take some days off afterwards and get ready for the second leg of conference.”
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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