by Tara Park
Despite losing this week to Utah State (3-1) and Boise State (3-0), the Wolf Pack remained ninth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference standing.
“We are better than what our rank is,” said hitter Sam Willoughby. “It’s a matter of playing to be consistent.”
Nevada remains ahead of San Diego State and San Jose State in the MWC race, which the Wolf Pack topped 3-1 and 3-0 earlier this season, respectively.
The program has struggled immensely during the last three seasons, totaling a mere 13 wins in that span. However, Nevada (7-16, 4-9 MW) has undergone major changes this year from strategy on the court, work ethic in the weight room and even higher academic standards.
“We’re trying to change the entire culture of Nevada volleyball and this is the first season with the big change,” Willoughby said. “You see the change when we are playing well. When we don’t play well, that’s when we’re slipping back into bad habits.”
Consistency has been the Wolf Pack’s Achilles’ heel thus far. Earlier in the season, Nevada went into the half up 2-0, only for Air Force to come back and win 3-2. Yet, Nevada did the same thing to Fresno State, giving the Pack its first conference win of the season.
Many matches throughout the season have ended in Nevada losing the set 23-25 or 22-25. Players and coaches alike have stressed the team’s down-to-the-wire losses are due to digging them- selves into holes early in its games.
However, the Wolf Pack has excelled in service aces, averaging a conference-best of 1.63 per game, with Wyoming trailing at 1.38.
“It’s an asset for us,” said Nevada head coach Ruth Lawanson. “We were at the bottom last year in serving, so it’s a nice step forward. Serving is the first line of defense for us.”
Leading the way for the Wolf Pack in the aces category is Willoughby with 0.39. The junior changed her serve last spring. Before, Willoughby served from the floor, but now does a jump float.
“It’s a higher contact with the ball,” Willoughby said. “I feel like it’s coming down [at the opponent] faster. I’m glad to see a result.”
Other Nevada players have performed well so far this season, adding their names to the group of conference leaders.
Senior middle blocker Tessa Lea’ea ranks twelfth in kills with 238. In the Pack’s first win this season to Fresno, Lea’ea reached 1,000 kills for her career.
Lawanson believes that Lea’ea will be able to reach 1,200 before the end of her final season at Nevada. Lea’ea needs 1,172 career kills to tie Kelly Martin (1991-94) at No. 10 on Nevada’s all-time record book.
Lea’ea appears on many of the year’s other conference-leading lists. She is ranked eighth in points, 10th in blocks and 19th in hitting percent- age.
Setter Lyndsey Anderson is ranked ninth for assists with 677. One player who is not on the conference list, but has raised big numbers on Nevada’s player stats, is freshman Madison Foley.
“[This season] has been very demanding and busy, but it has also been a ton of fun,” Foley said. “There’s some games where I’m happy with how I played and others where it’s the complete opposite, but overall I’m happy with the way I’ve performed this season.”
Foley trails Lea’ea at 200 kills and has 210 digs (second on the team behind libero Kara Kasser). Lawanson compared Foley to a previous player, Grace Anxo, in her freshman year.
“[Anxo] came onto a more experienced team with more seniors,” Lawanson said. “With only two seniors, Foley is having to take a lot more of a role than [Anxo] had to. In terms of what she had to do this season she’s done a really good job.”
Five games remain on the Wolf Pack’s schedule, including a pivotal Governor Series’ matchup with UNLV tomorrow.
“The next couple of matches will only move us up [in conference rankings],” Lawanson said. “But we have to play the whole game.”
Tara Park can be reached at euribe@sagebrush. unr.edu and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.