Las Vegas Optic
The New Mexico Highlands University volleyball team is projected to finish 11th in the 14-team Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference this fall.
But with an experienced core returning, supplemented by several talented newcomers, the Cowgirls may have enough depth to make serious progress and prove a few naysayers wrong.
That’s the plan, anyway, for NMHU head coach Bryan Crawford.
“We were picked where we finished last season,” Crawford said in a news release. “We have a lot deeper bench this year, so if we can avoid injuries, we will be in the playoffs like we expected last year.”
The Cowgirls started well in 2013, winning six of their first eight matches. But they had difficulties in league play and lost seven of their last nine. Overall, NMHU went 12-17 with a 6-13 RMAC mark.
Back for another run is Alicia Moreno, a senior outside hitter from the Dominican Republic. Moreno averaged 2.82 kills per set and started 26 matches, seeing action in all 29.
NMHU will miss hitters Darian Mullen, Marina Samoa and middle blocker Jazmine Harge. Mullen (3.38 kills per set) and Moreno (2.82 kills per set) were Highlands’ offensive leaders.
Aside from Moreno, other key returners include setter Tarissa Mellin, who started 22 matches as a freshman and averaged 6.52 assists per set, and Jessica Piper, whose 4.6 digs per set led the Cowgirls and ranked third in the RMAC.
Lexis Satele is another key defender returning.
The RMAC coaches’ poll, released Monday, predicts Colorado School of Mines (25-7, 17-2 in 2013) as the favorite to win the league, although there is hardly a consensus.
Four other squads received first-place votes. Colorado Mesa, Regis and Metro State ranked second through fourth in the poll, and each garnered multiple first-place ballots. Despite having finished with the second best RMAC record (15-4) a year ago, Western New Mexico was rated seventh behind those top four, Colorado Christian and Adams State.
Taylor Sturms, a 5-8 junior outside hitter for Colorado Christian, was named RMAC Preseason Player of the Year.
NMHU gets the season rolling on Sept. 5 in a tournament at West Texas A&M.