By: Joseph Fullbright
NM State 3 UTEP 2
The New Mexico State women’s volleyball team officially closed out the 2016 season with a 3-2 victory over UTEP [25-20, 18-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-12] in the Battle of I-10 at Memorial Gym in El Paso.
The Aggies jumped out early taking set one before struggling mightily in the second. The second set saw NMSU hit a rough -.024 and commit 11 attack errors. UTEP would go on to take the third set as well and was looking to close out the match.
Facing a 2-1 deficit, the Aggies knew they had to step it up if they wanted to end the season on a high note. They won the fourth set thanks to successful offensive attacking, which forced the decisive fifth set. The two teams were tied at 12 before the Aggies ended the match on a 3-point scoring streak to secure the 15-12 victory.
“Glad we were able to come back from down 2-1 and overcome all of our attack errors,” Aggie head coach Mike Jordan said. “Fortunately our block came alive and score for us in the fifth set.”
With the victory, the Aggies improved to and will finish the season with a 24-7 record, including a 13-1 mark in WAC play. It is the 14th time in 19 seasons that a Jordan-coached team finished with 20 or more wins in a season.
Aggies Take Home Plenty of Accolades
Following the regular season, the Western Athletic Conference honored the season’s top performers with accolades and honors.
Aggie outside-hitters Jordan Abalos and Tatyana Battle were named to the All-WAC First Team thanks to stellar seasons. Abalos, a junior, led the team with 426 kills on the year (3.70 per set) and finished with 17 double-doubles. Battle really made a name for herself in only her sophomore year finishing second on the team with 389 kills, including a season-high 28 at UTRGV back on November 5.
The Aggies were also represented well on the All-WAC Second Team with outside-hitter Sasha-Lee Thomas and libero Ariadnne Sierra taking home the honors. Thomas, who was selected as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year prior to the year, had a very solid junior campaign leading the Aggies with 92 blocks on the defensive end while finishing 3rd with 316 kills. Sierra finished the season with 548 digs (4.68 per set). She recorded double-digit digs in 27 of the team’s 31 season games.
In addition to being named to the All-WAC Second Team, Sierra was also named the WAC Libero of the Year.
Rounding out the accolades for the Aggies was setter Crash Parker, who was named to the All-WAC Freshman Team. She finished her freshman season with 548 assists- good for second on the team.
Looking Ahead to 2017
It was not the ending to the season that Mike Jordan and his volleyball team were looking for. After jumping out to a dominant 20-5 start, they began to struggle down the stretch dropping two of their final six matches. They barely squeaked by with three of those four victories coming by way of fifth set battles.
The rough late-season stretch was capped with a defeat to UT-Rio Grande Valley in the WAC Tournament Semifinals by way of a 3-1 score. The Aggies entered the tournament as the #1 seed and, thanks to it being hosted in Las Cruces, were the heavy favorites to win it and clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Sure the 2016 season may leave a sour taste in coach Jordan and the team’s mouths, but there is a lot to look forward to as far as 2017 is concerned.
Let’s start off with the obvious: head coach Mike Jordan will be back for his 20th season at the helm of the team. His 421 career victories speak for themselves when looking at his success here in Las Cruces. He has also won at least 20 games in 14 of his 19 seasons. Jordan will also hopefully retain assistant coaches Keith Rubio and Ben Wallis- two guys who are very underrated as far as the teams’ success is concerned. We know that the coaches will most likely be there, so what about the roster?
This 2016 Aggie team really overachieved on the court this season. They came into the year coming off of one of the best seasons in program history (28-6) in 2015 and had to face the challenge of replacing five very important lost seniors. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, yet coach Jordan got his players to exceed all expectations and finish the year with great success.
The best thing to look forward to? There were ZERO seniors on the roster in 2016. Barring any transfers, the Aggies will return almost everybody in 2017. Offensive attackers Jordan Abalos, Sasha-Lee Thomas, and Kassandra Tohm, along with WAC Libero of the Year Ariadnne Sierra will be seniors. Tatyana Battle and Brianna Ainsworth, who were both huge this past season and were starters, will also just be juniors. Crash Parker, Megan Hart, and Brigette Lowe will be among those who will be sophomores. Next year’s team could very well go down as one of the most talented rosters that Las Cruces has ever seen on the court.
The future is definitely bright for the New Mexico State volleyball team.