By Albert Luna
The five seniors on NMSU’s volleyball team have been essential to this very successful season. Their last game in the Pan Am was be no exception. The New Mexico State Aggies defeated the Grand Canyon Lopes on Saturday afternoon, 3-1, in the Pan American Center. This game marked the last home game for seniors Gwen Murphy, Taylor Livoti, Bradley Nash, Andrea Tauai, and Nathalie Castellanos.
The Aggies were playing in the second leg of a two-game home stand, fresh off sweeping California State-Bakersfield on Thursday night, 3-0, in a game that saw the women clean up some of their previous error problems. The Aggies, also on Thursday, clinched a share of the WAC regular season conference title. With a win on Saturday, the Aggies mathematically clinched the outright regular season title for the conference, ensuring them the top seed in the conference tournament.
The Aggies, after a brief recognition of their seniors in the pregame, started off with high intensity and few errors. The five seniors were clearly trying to go out on a high note, jumping to an early 8-3 lead, due in large part to the seniors’ performance. The Lopes simply were not getting in the way of Coach Mike Jordan’s fired up team in the first set.
Jordan didn’t even need to call a timeout in the set. After coming within four points, 9-5, early in the set, the Lopes fell victim to the Aggies’ dominating play from that point forward. The Aggies went on a 16-10 run to close the set.
Senior Taylor Livoti had 10 assists in the set, while fellow senior Nathalie Castellanos led the Aggies in the scoring column with five kills on only seven attacks. The Aggies also hit .444 in the set compared to Grand Canyon’s .074 clip. The set ended on a Nathalie Castellanos-kill off of a Taylor Livoti-assist. The teams switched sides with the Aggies holding a 1-0 advantage in the match.
The second set, which has typically been the Aggies’ weak point in home games this season, did not fail to disappoint from that perspective. The Aggies stumbled out of the gate for the set, with a 4-2 early hole to show for it in the set. However, unlike some other occasions, the Aggies were not going away easily. The team battled back collectively as the underclassmen showed a little bit of where this program is headed in the future.
The Aggies tied things up at 18-all late in the set, just points away from completing the comeback. The final stretch of the second set came with exciting volleyball essentially in each sequence. The teams split a pair of two volleys that brought the Aggies to a one-point lead, 21-20. The Lopes later took a lead after a questionable call by the officials had Jordan worked up, which resulted in the coach receiving a yellow card.
The Aggies took time, down 23-21. The Aggies were unable to complete the comeback as the Lopes went on a 2-1 run, winning the set 25-22. The two schools went into the halftime break all even at 1 apiece in the match, with the deciding third set looming at the other end of the break.
“I thought that we just didn’t play good defensively in that set and I told them at the half to just get in their sets and hit the ball a bit better,” Jordan says.
The third set started with the Aggies gaining their composure once again, and in a timely and big way. The Aggies jumped to a quick 9-1 start that was fueled by kill after kill from the Aggies, including two by Tatyana Battle and one by Gwen Murphy. The team simply could do no wrong coming out to start, especially doing an excellent job digging the ball. The Lopes called time, down 14-2, with NMSU having an answer for everything GCU could throw at them. One thing that stood out was the help the seniors received from their underclassmen teammates, something Jordan says going forward will prove to be crucial.
“A lot of the younger players can’t show their talent because they don’t get a lot of playing time but I think that going forward they’re going to be a big part,” he says.
The opening pace proved to be the tone of the rest of the set, as the team collectively was able to down the Lopes, 25-9.
The Aggies headed into the decisive fourth with a 2-1 advantage, with the seniors looking to close out their home careers the right way. NMSU jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead early, but GCU proved they were not going to roll over as in the previous set. However, NMSU continued to keep the pace and ultimately down the Lopes, with a final 25-16. One of the best senior classes would go out just they wanted: winners.
“This was big and special,” Jordan says. “This is a storybook ending to win a game in this fashion.”
Afterwards, the seniors were formally recognized for their effort.
“These five women are good players but even better people,” he says.
The post-game festivities included each player speaking, thanking family, friends, and fans.
“I’m honored to have been a part of their fans, and this is one of the best senior classes of all time,” Jordan says.
The road is not over, however, as the Aggies will next travel on a two-game road trip to close out the season before they travel to Kansas City for the conference tournament.
“We want to stay healthy first and foremost,” Jordan says. “We want to get as much rest as possible for these players going forward.”
The Aggies ended the season with only one loss at home this year, and although they will be losing five seniors, the future, as Gwen Murphy put it when addressing her team postgame, is still looking bright.
“I hope you all can learn something from us,” she says. “I’m thankful to have you all as teammates. Good luck in the future!”
Albert Luna may be reached at Aluna32@nmsu.edu
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