Tara Park /Nevada Sagebrush

Wolf Pack’s Tessa Lea’ea (6) goes for a kill against UNLV on Saturday, Oct. 18. Nevada lost in three sets to its interstate rival.

By Nicole Skow

Every season brings renewed hope. It offers players a chance to fix what went wrong last year and prove why they aren’t the same team from last year. For the past several years, Nevada’s volleyball team seemed to be in a rut, falling to the bottom of the conference standings and ending the season with a less-than stellar record.

However, Nevada came out with a different mindset this year and the team got off to a hot start. The Pack took first place in the Pepperdine Tourna- ment and swept Sacramento State in its first home game of the season as if to show that Nevada didn’t deserve to be placed at the bottom.

“This season we came in with a different work ethic,” said senior outside hitter Donna Greely. “We spent all summer here and training really hard on our own and with the coaches … We came in with a fresh start and a stronger start with a new mindset, a kind of relentless mindset. Years past we do what we are told, but I think this year we came in with a hardworking mindset.”

Despite coming in with a different work ethic, old habits reared their ugly heads. The Wolf Pack rode an eight-game losing streak before defeating Fresno State in five sets on the road Thursday. Last season, Nevada’s losing streak maxed out at 17.

Wolf Pack players learned that the best medicine after a tough loss is getting back into the gym and working harder than the previous week.

“During practice when we come back from the road we try to build up our confidence because we know that we’re not a losing team,” said senior middle Tessa Lea’ea. “We just need to show it in practice so we can show it in games.”

Growth has been a common theme this season. The Pack al- ready has more wins this season (five) than last year (four) and has tied its conference wins at two. Head coach Ruth Lawanson sees improvement from the team as a whole rather than one individual.

“It’s been a collective unit as a group because we’ve been working to change the culture,” Lawanson said. “The culture before was that any time we got into a battle and somebody pushed we never pushed back. We’re learning to push back now. After we lost game three [against San Diego], previous teams would have just folded and so they just kept working hard and staying with it and staying focused on what they needed to do.”

A team can improve as a whole, but at the end of the day there will always be a few players that seems to stick out above the rest, and Greely is one such player. Greely’s blocking percentage has swelled from 1.68 to 1.82 per game in a year timeframe. Her biggest growth comes in the form of kills. In 32 games, Greely roughly averaged 1.71, but already in 17 games she averages 3.06 on the right side.

“Donna’s work ethic is ridiculous,” said assistant coach Aven Lee. “Donna is very determined to play this year from last year. She’s a big block for us on the right-hand side. That’s what she worked hard at doing and she’s doing a good job at it. We have no choice but to keep her in there because she’s doing what we need her to do.”

While the team may have improved from last year, the biggest impact doesn’t come in the form of a sophomore, junior or senior. It comes in the tiny yet powerful 5-foot-9 outside hitter Madison Foley. Throughout the entire season, the freshman

has become a steady player on offensive and defensive.

“[Foley] is a really critical piece to this team, back row and front row,” said setter Lyndsey Anderson. “She really holds her own and she’s a really smart player so she knows how to handle balls. We really need her on the court. She’s important to us.”

Foley had big shoes to fill this season, replacing the departed Grace Anxo. Foley is already putting up numbers that rival Anxo’s. In Anxo’s 32-game senior season she averaged 7.81 kills, and 7.03 digs a game. Foley is en route to beat those numbers her freshman season and she’s only 17 games in. She puts up double-doubles on what seems like the regular averaging 8.29 kills and 9.47 digs a game. Foley’s 141 total kills puts her second overall trailing only Lea’ea (185), and Foley’s digs (167) has her trailing team leader Kara Kasser (195).

“[Foley’s] overall game is further along than Grace’s was as a freshman,” Lawanson said. “Grace had a great supporting cast around her and she had a bunch of seniors that we’re playing around her. This isn’t a senior laden team at all. {Foley’s] having to do more of the workload.”

Nevada only has 11 games left this season to leave its dent in the conference. In order to flip this season around, the team has to put its goals into action.

“We got to play with a little bit more maturity,” Lee said. “We need to play with consistency. We’re good. We know we can do it, but it’s a matter of doing it. Talking and saying you’re going to do it and doing it is two differ- ent things. We’ve got to be a little bit more a man of our words, for a lack of a better term.”

Nicole Skow can be reached at euribe@sagebrush.unr.edu.