Photo by Nathan Brown/Nevada Sagebrush

Nevada’s Tessa Lea’ea (6) spikes the ball against New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 27. The senior is four kills shy of eclipsing 1,000 kills at Nevada.

by Nicole Skow

Virginia Street Gym went quiet last Thursday as Air Force’s Rachel Bradley Powers stepped up to the service line. The crowd waited with baited breath to see if Nevada could hold its three-point lead. Serving 21-24, Powers directed the ball to Nevada’s libero Kara Kasser, who bumped it to setter Taylar Rothfuss who set it for middle Sam Willoughby. The 6-foot-1 Willoughby got above the ball and slammed it past the Falcons’ blockers. With that kill, Nevada had just taken the second set and was one away from sealing the match, but that would be the last set it won all weekend as Air Force won the next three sets.

The Wolf Pack (3-9, 0-2) followed its loss to the Falcons with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of New Mexico last Saturday. Things appeared to be going the Wolf Pack’s way against Air Force. Nevada dominated the first set taking an early lead, but Air Force pushed the Pack more in the second set with one lead change and eight ties. However, the Falcons got revenge as they dominated the third set and went on to take the final two sets. Despite four Nevada hitters being in the double-digit kill range and outside hitter Madison Foley racking up 21 digs, errors proved to be the true enemy in this match. After the first two sets, Nevada only had nine service errors and seven attacking errors, but by the end of the match, the numbers swelled to 28 attacking errors and 18 service errors.

“[The errors are] why we lost,” said Nevada head coach Ruth Lawanson. “That’s why it went five, while we were up in the first two. We just didn’t put them away when we should have and we gave them an opportunity to get back in there. When you do that and you go to a fifth like that then anything can happen. Then we just didn’t finish what we should have when we were up at the break.”

Errors didn’t prove to be as much of an issue as New Mexico’s right-side hitter Chantale Riddle and its frontline of defense. Riddle not only had 15 kills on 30 attacks to lead the Lobos, but she also had 12 digs, one solo block and four assisted blocks. At one point, Lobo setter Hannah Johnson set three balls in a row until Riddle finally found a hole in the block and the back row.

“It’s really frustrating because you can be in the right spot and your hand can be an inch in the wrong place and she’s going to get a kill instead of you getting that stuff block,” Willoughby said. “It’s really frustrating, but you just have to keep working at it and keep closing the block and eventually you’ll get that stuff block.”

Nevada had a hard time slipping the ball past New Mexico’s front line of tall trees. It seemed as if all New Mexico had to do was put its hands up and the ball would be back in Nevada’ court of play. More often than not, the ball came rebounded straight back at the Nevada players who weren’t able to dig it in time. However, the Wolf Pack did find a way to use the Lobos’ block against itself. Treading the fine line of hitting the antennas, Pack hitters such as Foley and Kinsey Minter tooled the ball against the arms of the Lobos’ blockers.

“[Tooling] plays a really big part especially if they have a big block like New Mexico did,” Willoughby said. “If all you see is hands in your face and no court behind, it’s easier just to use their hands then to try to find court that you can’t really see.”

The Wolf Pack travels to Fresno State (5-11, 0-2) Thursday for its only game of the week. Fresno State is also 0-2 after falling to UNLV and San Diego State University. The Rebels swept the Bulldogs while Fresno stole a game from the Aztecs before falling 3-1.

Nicole Skow can be reached at