Lobos set to Face UNLV in MW Championship Opening Round
New Mexico Volleyball is headed to its third-straight Mountain West Tournament this week in Las Vegas, set for an opening round matchup with UNLV at Cox Pavilion on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
The Lobos (18-11, 10-8 MW) wrapped up the regular season tied for fourth in the conference standings, their best finish since 2015. After clinching a tournament berth last Thursday, they enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed, matched up with the No. 3-seed Rebels (19-11, 11-7 MW) – preseason MW favorites and this year’s tournament hosts. A win on Wednesday would secure a matchup with No. 2 seed Colorado State on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Through 18 games of conference play, the Lobos posted the best opponent hitting average (.197) in the league and second-most blocks (2.57) and digs (14.76) per set. Kaitlynn Biassou ranks fourth in MW matches in kills per set (3.59) and Uxue Guereca ranks 10th in the conference in digs per set (3.04) – the duo rank fourth and ninth in the conference in points per set, respectively. Both Elizabeth Woods (4th, 1.14 blocks/set) and Athina Dimitriadis (7th, 1.12 blocks/set) rank among the top 10 in blocks in MW matches.
UNM split the season series with UNLV, sweeping the Rebels on the road (25-18, 25-16, 25-18) on Oct. 5 and falling in four (25-23, 22-25, 13-25, 16-25) at home on Oct. 28. Uxue Guereca posted 3.57 kills per set on .412 hitting while serving up four aces – all team-highs – across both matches, with Kaitlynn Biassou and Kali Wolf both adding 2.43 kills per set. The Lobos held the Rebels to .176 hitting in that span while posting a .210 average themselves.
Wednesday’s match will be broadcast via the MW Network, with live stats available via golobos.com/vbstats — follow @UNMLoboVB on socials for scores, highlights, gameday content and more.
UNM is 19-31 against UNLV all-time, snapping a seven-match losing streak to the Rebels that dated back to 2019 with their sweep of the Rebels in Vegas on Oct. 5 but dropping the rematch at home on Oct. 28. Before their seven-match skid, the Lobos had won three straight.
THE TOURNAMENT FIELD
Utah State (24-5, 17-1) clinched the No. 1 seed as well as the regular-season title approximately two weeks prior to Saturday’s matches and will take a bye in the opening round of the tournament. Colorado State (18-11, 12-6) will also take a bye as it fills in the No. 2 seed. UNLV (19-11, 11-7) will round out the top half of the bracket as the No. 3 seed. Boise State (14-14, 10-8), Fresno State (16-13, 10-8) and New Mexico (18-11, 10-8) will fill in the bottom half, respectively.
The opening round will feature No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Fresno State at 2 p.m. MT followed by No. 3 UNLV and No. 6 New Mexico at 5 p.m. MT on Wednesday.
KAIT KEEPS MAKING HISTORY
Kaitlynn Biassou put on a show for Lobo fans in the final home match of her five-year career while leading the Lobos to their second five-set win over Nevada this season. She only needed 9 kills and 20 points to break the record and finished with 21 kills, 8 digs, 9 total blocks and a total of 25.5 points to surge past UNM All-American Chantale Riddle for the No. 1 all-time spot. She’s up to 1,660 career kills and 1,941.5 career points after last week.
With her first service ace of the match against Northern Arizona, Biassou notched her 100th ace of her career. She entered the program’s all-time Top 10 in service aces two weeks ago and is now No. 5 on the all-time list (114), 2 away from taking the No. 5 spot and and 6 away from taking sole possession of the No. 2 spot.
FIRST TIME AROUND
UNM split the season series with UNLV, sweeping the Rebels on the road (25-18, 25-16, 25-18) on Oct. 5 and falling in four (25-23, 22-25, 13-25, 16-25) at home on Oct. 28. Uxue Guereca posted 3.57 kills per set on .412 hitting while serving up four aces – all team-highs – across both matches, with Kaitlynn Biassou and Kali Wolf both adding 2.43 kills per set. The Lobos held the Rebels to .176 hitting in that span while posting a .210 average themselves.|
In the Lobos’ sweep of the Rebels in Vegas, UNM pulled away midway through each set thanks to season-high .347 hitting on the match for their first sweep of conference play, getting double-digit kills from Uxue Guereca (13) and Kaitlynn Biassou (11) in the process while Guereca added four aces to help the Lobos snap a seven-game losing streak to UNLV that dated back to 2019.
The senior outside duo were hot from the opening ball, both hitting over .500 the first two sets while combining for 19 kills as the Lobos raced out to a two-set advantage.
UNM’s defense took care of the rest, holding the Rebels to .144 hitting while outblocking them six to five and outdigging them 38 to 34. UNM held MW Preseason Player of the Year Isabel Martin to .152 hitting while UNLV committed 16 attack errors in total.
The Lobos’ middles took over to keep things going in the third, with UNM coming up with five of its six total blocks in the closeout set while getting three kills each from Athina Dimitriadis and Elizabeth Woods as UNM rode out a healthy lead to seal the sweep.
On the season overall, the Lobos rank No. 49 in the nation in opponent hitting average (.174), No. 58 in digs per set (15.77) and No. 38 in blocks per set (2.50) – they lead the Mountain West in opponent hitting and digs per set overall and rank No. 2 in blocks.
Elizabeth Woods is No. 77 in the nation in blocks per set (1.16) and Uxue Guereca is No. 156 in kills per set (3.41) and No. 115 in points per set (4.11) on the second-most attacks per set in the league (9.83). Kaitlynn Biassou’s 4.01 points per set is good for 148th in the nation.
The Lobos clocked in at No. 122 in Monday’s rankings – one of seven MW teams in the nations’ Top 150. Their 0-2 week on the road – the first time all year they have gone winless in a week – only dropped them two spots from last week’s No. 120 mark.
The Lobos tout the second-best road winning percentage in the Mountain West and second-best nonconference record. UNM is 6-4 against Top-150 RPI opponents so far this season.
MW TOURNEY HISTORY
UNM has qualified for the last two MW Tournaments, earning a No. 5 seed in 2022 and 2021 – they’re looking to break through the opening round this time. The Lobos fell in straight sets to Utah State in last year’s tournament and were defeated by UNLV in a five-set thriller in 2021.
ATHINA AND LIZ ON THE BLOCK
Athina Dimitriadis and Elizabeth Woods rank fourth and seventh in MW matches in blocks per set — one of only two duos from the same team to crack the top 10 along with Boise State’s Chey Day and Annie Kaminski (No. 8 & No. 9). Dimitriadis averaged the sixth-most blocks in the league last week.
EXPERIENCED ON THE OUTSIDES
Kaitlynn Biassou (3.32 kills/set, 2.27 digs/set) and Uxue Guereca (3.41 kills/set, 3.03 digs/set) have been instrumental to UNM’s performance so far this year.
So far this season, Guereca ranks No. 4 in the conference in kills per set, No. 10 in digs per set and No. 3 in points per set (4.16). Biassou ranks No. 8 in kills per set and No. 8 in points per set (3.78).
Biassou and Guereca rank third and fourth in their careers among active MW players in points per set, with 3.89 and 3.75 respectively. They’re also third and fifth in kills per set (3.33, 3.22).
Jon Newman-Gonchar’s Lobos are picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Coaches’ Poll – the highest they’ve been slated to finish in Newman-Gonchar’s four seasons at the helm in Albuquerque.
UNM is coming off its second consecutive winning season, going 17-12 overall and 8-10 in conference in 2022 en route to a fifth-place finish and the Lobos’ second straight MWC Tournament berth. Newman-Gonchar has posted a 62.7% win percentage over the last two seasons, with 20 wins in 2021 marking the most for the program since 2013.
A LOOK AT THE ROSTER
UNM’s nine returners combined for 70% of the Lobos’ total points last season, with 2022 All-MWC Outside Hitter Kaitlyn Biassou along with fellow 2022 starters Uxue Guereca (338 kills, 393.5 points) and Kali Wolf (228 kills, 276 points) highlighting the Lobos’ experience on the outside. The Lobos also added four freshmen and three impact grad transfers to offset the loss of middle blocker Avital Jaloba, libero Alena Moldan and setter Anilee Sher to graduation.
GOOD, BETTER, BEST, BIASSOU
In her fifth and final season at UNM, Kaitlynn Biassou has continued to get better each year. This year, she sees the Lobos making a similar jump.
“This is the most depth we’ve had since I’ve been here, and I’m super excited about our potential,” Biassou said. “We made it to the (MWC) tournament the last two years and lost in the first round both times. This year I want to get back and win the tournament. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Biassou put up career-high numbers for the third straight season in 2022, with 431 kills (3.68 per set) to go with 33 service aces and 504.5 points – all team-highs for UNM. The Reno, Nev. native ranked No. 4 in the Mountain West in kills and No. 3 in points per set (4.31) while also picking up 227 digs (1.94 per set) and tallying 75 total blocks.
In MWC play last season, Biassou cracked double-digit kills in 14 out of 18 conference matchups, matching a career-high twice with 26 kills vs. Wyoming (Sep. 29) and at Nevada (Oct. 15). Those two performances were the third-highest total by a MWC player in a conference game last season, with her 31 points in that Wyoming match ranking as the most in a single game in MWC action. Additionally, Biassou’s 21 kills against Utah State (Sep. 24) ranked as the second-most in a three-set match.
Biassou is also a threat at the service line, with four matches with three or more service aces — including five against Abilene Christian — and eight matches with multiple aces in a match. She’s served up 24 aces so far this season.
EXPERIENCE ALL OVER
A total of seven seniors (4 grad seniors, 1 redshirt, 2 true seniors) combined for 1,652 sets played entering the season — the most seniors Newman-Gonchar has ever had on a roster during his time at UNM.
Co-captains Kaitlynn Biassou, Kali Wolf and Uxue are the first trio to record at least 200 kills and 20 service aces each in the same season under Newman-Gonchar, and first since 2016.
Only five of the Lobos’ opponents have hit above .200 and only two have hit above .300 on the season. UNM’s loss to CSU was the first time all season that a team hit above .300 against the Lobos — San Francisco (.248) was the only other team to crack .200 at that point, with 5 opponents hitting below .100.
UNM held 16 opponents below a .200 hitting percentage last season, with one opponent (Portland State) below .100 (.089). In 2022, UNM held opponents to a .187 hitting percentage, which ranked No. 1 in the Mountain West. In MW matches in 2022, UNM led the league in digs per set (16.14) and finished 2nd in opp. hitting % (.188). The Lobos lead the league in both categories so far in 2023.