By Albert Luna
The New Mexico State women’s volleyball team extended their winning streak to nine games on Thursday night as they took down rival UTEP, 3-0, in the latest addition of the Battle of I-10.
The Aggies, who were coming off a dramatic from-behind victory versus Seattle on Saturday, were playing their last game at home before a three-game road trip. The Miners came in riding a five-game losing streak after falling to 1-7 in conference USA play.
“We scouted them really well coming into this game,” says senior Aggie Taylor Livoti. “We know the target is on our back because of our winning streak.”
The Aggies opened up the game struggling, which is unusual for a team that has recently been dominating in the opening matches. NMSU struggled with control of their serves early on in the match, with two of three serves overshooting by a wide margin early to keep UTEP in the set, at one point being 6-6 all to start off.
However, Gwen Murphy made her mark early as the all-American candidate came in and put some life into her team with two early kills. A timeout came around as the scoreboard read 15-11 in favor of the Aggies. Coach Mike Jordan, however, did not like the way his team responded out of the timeout, leaving the door open for UTEP to get back in the set.
One of the biggest detriments for the Aggies early was an absurd seven service errors in the set. Jordan says he didn’t have to tell his veteran-laden team to straighten up the errors.
“They’re smart enough to know they were playing terrible,” he says.
Senior Nathalie Castellanos says the team simply wasn’t in the right frame of mind to start off.
“We were way too tense and too nervous,” she says. “We had to pick a spot and hit it.”
NMSU went up 23-18 at one point, but two straight serves that were long by the Aggies led to yet another timeout by Jordan with NMSU up, 23-20. They responded well after the break, with a block by Murphy and Andrea Tauai that propelled the Aggies to the set win, 25-21.
The women switched sides and looked for a pivotal win in the second set to send them into the half momentum.
NMSU came out with plenty of fight in the second set, which was in stark contrast to previous games’ second sets when they would get comfortable, as Jordan has described. The Aggies were up 5-0 quickly before a UTEP timeout would stop the bleeding for the Miners.
UTEP went on a 5-5 run, eventually proving to be the closest they would get the rest of the game.
“That first set was rough,” Castellanos says. “The second set we realized that this is UTEP and they’re one of our rivals and we had to wake up.”
The Aggies certainly did, ending the set 25-14 win, putting them up two sets to none as the teams headed in for the halftime break.
The third set was simply more of the same. Castellanos had one of her better games all season, serving five kills in the deciding third set and 14 overall for the game. Castellanos has self-admittedly been struggling as of late.
“The last couple of games I didn’t play as well as I would have like,” she says.
Castellanos and Livoti, who finished with a game high 29 assists, would be pivotal in helping usher in the ninth straight win for the program, their last loss against a ranked Texas team over a month ago now.
“We wanted competition, and when you beat your rival and no one gets hurt, it’s a good day,” Jordan says.
The Aggies will now go on the road for the next three games as they travel to UTRGV, UMKC, and Chicago State. Jordan says he will be preaching to his team to continue getting better on this crucial stretch.
“I expect to improve and not stay the same,” he says. “We’re going to have to start going harder.”
The Aggies’ next home game will be Thursday, November 5, against CSU Bakersfield.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna@NMSU.edu
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