By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — In preparing for the program’s first trip to NCAA Division II postseason competition, at least the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team has an idea of what to expect from its opponent.
The Zias (24-8), seeded fifth, take on fourth seed Mesa State (22-9) in a 4 p.m. (MST) quarterfinal matchup on Friday in the Southwest Regional at Kearney, Neb.
The teams played on the first weekend of September in a two-day event hosted by Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., with the Mavericks winning 27-30, 30-24, 30-26, 30-27.
ENMU coach Mike Maguire said the squads have many similarities and have had similar types of seasons.
“They’re very athletic and they play really good defense,” he said. “We were playing on their home court earlier, so maybe this (neutral court) will help us a little bit.
“I’m sure we’re both better teams than we were back then.”
The Mavericks went 0-4 in a season-opening tournament in Florida in late August, but came back to win all four matches the next weekend and have been playing well ever since.
They finished 15-4 in rolling to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference West Division title by four games over Colorado State-Pueblo and New Mexico Highlands.
“We weren’t quite where we are now, but I’m sure they weren’t either,” ENMU senior Emilie Rodman said. “I’m excited to go. I think it’ll be a good experience for us.”
Maguire said the Mavericks, also making their first NCAA postseason appearance, have two top-notch front row players in junior outside hitter Nikki Green and sophomore middle Lauren Powley.
“For us, we have to pass well and block well,” he said. “If we do that, we’re usually OK.”
The winner will likely have the unenviable task of facing top-ranked and unbeaten host Neb.-Kearney (36-0) in Saturday’s semifinals. But Rodman, who is from Gillette, Wyo., said she’d like that because it would give her a chance to face a friend and high school rival in UNK’s Erin Arnold.
“I’d be blocking (against) her too,” said Rodman, who is listed as a middle blocker but has played mostly on the weak side this season. “She’s an outside hitter.”
NCAA Division II
Southwest Regional pairings
At Kearney, Neb.
All Times MST
(Seeds, records in parentheses)
Abilene Christian (3, 28-7) vs. St. Edward’s (6, 23-14), 11 a.m.
Rockhurst (7, 26-9) vs. Fort Hays State (2, 29-4), 1:30 p.m.
Eastern New Mexico (5, 24-8) vs. Mesa State (4, 22-9), 4 p.m.
Neb.-Kearney (1, 36-0) vs. Metro State (8, 17-14), 6:30 p.m.
Abilene Christian-St. Edward’s winner vs. Rockhurst-Fort Hays State winner, 4 p.m.
Eastern New Mexico-Mesa State winner vs. Neb.-Kearney-Metro State winner, 6:30 p.m.
Championship match, 2 p.m.