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Ken Sickenger | Albuquerque Journal | September 1, 2017

Coach Jeff Nelson happy with young New Mexico's start

  New Mexico went 2-1 in its season opening tournament appearance at Iowa State.

Coach Jeff Nelson liked most of what he saw on the University of New Mexico's first road trip. This week, he expects a bit more.

The Lobos opened the season last week by winning two of three matches at Iowa State's Cyclone Invitational. UNM earned 3-0 sweeps over Nebraska Omaha and Kent State before dropping a 3-0 match to host Iowa State.

Throw out the final set against Iowa State, a 25-10 romp, and Nelson was satisfied with his young team's start.

"We played pretty well in eight sets out of nine," Nelson said. "We came unraveled a bit in set three against Iowa State, but other than that we battled. We extended plays, got points when we needed them and I thought our chemistry was pretty good."

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UNM's opening road test continues this weekend at UTEP's Glory Road Invitational. The Lobos will take on Youngstown State (4-0) and UTEP (0-2) Friday at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively, then face North Dakota (4-1) at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

There are no big-name opponents like Iowa State in this week's field, but Nelson expects a battle. North Dakota, an NCAA tournament qualifier last season, opened the season by sweeping through the Ole Miss Rebel Invitational. The Fighting Hawks' lone loss came at Georgia Tech.

"North Dakota's very good and they've got a lot of key players back," Nelson said. "They're picked to win (the Big Sky Conference) again and they probably will. That match will be a big test for us."

Youngstown State also is off to its best start in recent memory, while UTEP will be playing at home for the first time this season.

"It won't be easy," Nelson said, "but I think we can compete with all these teams if we stay focused and keep improving."

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UNM got strong performances from several players at Iowa State, including libero Ashley Kelsey and middle blocker Victoria Spragg, who were named to the all-tournament team. Kelsey racked up 45 digs in the Lobos' three matches, while Spragg had 21 kills, six blocks and posted a team-best .385 hitting percentage.

Nelson also liked what he saw from several young players, including outside hitters Lauren Twitty and Hailey Rubino.

This article is written by Ken Sickenger from Albuquerque Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.


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