Sept. 16, 2011
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Lobos lost an emotional battle, 3-2, to the Pittsburgh Panthers in their first match of the Pitt Blue and Gold Classic Friday night. New Mexico fell victim to a come from behind victory by the Panthers. The Lobos won the first two sets in spectacular fashion, but fell apart in the final three to give the match away to Pitt.
It was easy to tell in warm-ups that the Lobos had come to play. The ladies were firing on all cylinders, coming up with diving digs and raining down the fury on their kills. It was only a matter of time before the match would start and Pittsburgh would find itself in a lot of trouble. Unfortunately for the Lobos, that passionate play only came in the first two sets.
Pittsburgh proved to be an extremely tough and headstrong opponent, as the Panthers claimed sets three and four to force a fifth and final set.
In the fifth set, the Lobos failed to match Pitt’s built-up momentum. It was a disappointing loss for the Lobos, and one that head coach Jeff Nelson won‘t forget any time soon.
“I couldn’t be more disappointed,” Nelson said. “This is the second match this season that we have beaten ourselves. We just aren’t getting output from our outside hitters. We have Ashley Rhoades and Allison Buck putting up huge numbers and other people just watching right now.”
Game One: Lobos 25, Pitt 19
The Lobos got out to a blazing fast start, taking a 6-1 lead over host Pittsburgh. With the Lobos pouring it on early, Panthers’ head coach Toby Rens was forced to call a timeout. Pitt battled back to narrow the Lobos’ lead to five at one point (20-15), but the Lobos proved to be too much as they took the set 25-19. As usual, Rhoades, the Mountain West’s leader in kills per set, was the dominating offensive force for New Mexico. The senior was responsible for nine of the Lobos 25 points (six kills and three block assists) to go along with a hitting percentage of .500.
Game Two: Lobos 25, Pitt 18
The second set was played extremely tight in the beginning. The Lobos held the lead for the majority of the time, but the Panthers were always within striking distance. The difference maker for the Lobos was team unity. When things got tough the team showed true grit by playing for one another, acting as a complete unit. Setter Mariah Agre matched her first game total in assists with 11, giving her 22 total heading into the third set. The Lobos overcame the push Pitt had early to claim the set 25-18.
Game Three: Pitt 26, Lobos 24
The game was stopped early on, with the score at 2-3, when sophomore Ashley Newman hurt herself after landing awkwardly on her foot. The Lobos got hot after the stoppage, reeling off five-straight points, forcing the Panthers to call a timeout. Pitt came out strong after the timeout, eventually taking the lead, 12-10. The Panther’s Monica Wignot continued to improve on her impressive match, recording six kills, giving her 16 for the match. After Pitt took a 15-12 lead, coach Nelson called a timeout, no doubt, to preach how important is was to finish the match and not let Pitt back in it. The Lobos clawed their way back into the set to take a 17-16 lead. From that point, the Lobos and Panthers traded points up until the Panthers claimed their first set of the match, 26-24.
Game Four: Pitt 26, Lobos 24
The fourth set could have easily been compared to the 12th round of a heavyweight title fight. Neither team wanted to lose the set. It all came down to who wanted it more. Pitt was battling to keep the match alive, and the Lobos were fighting to shut the Panthers down for a victory. The truth of who wanted it more came in crunch time with the panthers in front, 23-21. Coach Nelson called a timeout in an effort to rally the troops. Unfortunately, that didn’t help as the Panthers took the game 26-24. Pitt’s Wignot was incredible, coming up with another four digs to give her a team-high total of 20, trailing only the Lobos’ Rhoades, who had a game-high 21 digs at that point.
Game Five: Pitt 15, Lobos 13
If the fourth set was a heavyweight title fight, then the fifth set was Armageddon. Once again the two teams played each other extremely tight. Pitt had the momentum coming into the set, having won two straight, and the Lobos simply couldn’t hold the Panthers off. The Panthers did an amazing job climbing out of the 2-0 hole they fell into to start the match, fending off the Lobos in the final set, 15-13, to win the match, 3-2.
“We just have to get up in the morning and play again,” Nelson said after the match. We have to work our way through it.”
The Lobos fall to 5-3 on the season with the loss and will look to rebound in their two matches tomorrow, beginning with Delaware at 11 a.m. and Temple at 3 p.m. MT