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NMSU Round Up

The Independent Student Voice of NMSU Since 1907

NMSU Round Up

The Independent Student Voice of NMSU Since 1907

NMSU Round Up

Despite a steadfast performance, NMSU volleyball falls in conference championship

Photo courtesy of NSMU Athletics.

The New Mexico State volleyball team headed into the Conference USA tournament with the second seed and advanced to the championship match after defeating the Louisianna Tech Bulldogs 3-0 and the Florida International Panthers 3-1. The Aggies advanced into the championship with a record of 21-9 overall and 11-5 in conference play but fell to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers after being contained to a .174 hitting percentage.  

The Aggies were off to a powerful start in the tournament with a clean sweep against the seventh seeded Bulldogs with the help of 15 kills from redshirt sophomore Starr Williams.  

The first set was close, but the Aggies took the upper hand to close it out 25-20. Williams posted six kills while Ryleigh Whitekettle, Kacia Brown and Ashley Herman each recorded three kills to promote a .377 team hitting percentage throughout the frame. The Aggies carried over their momentum from the win into the second set by making a 25-17 statement win.  

The third set was a similar story after the Aggies posted four blocks with two coming from redshirt freshman Alexandria Connatser. The offensive effort continued with 13 kills and a .345 hitting percentage to carry the Aggies to a 25-12 dominant win over the Bulldogs and to head into the semifinals.  

The Aggies fierce offense was in full force throughout the game and totaled 49 kills, complimented by 44 assists and four aces.  

Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics.

Following closely behind Williams’ strong offensive performance was redshirt sophomore Ryleigh Whitekittle’s 11 kills and sophomore Ashley Herman’s nine.  Sophomores Rilen Garcia and Bianca Perez were the assist leaders having 24 and 14, respectively.  

The defensive front was no less than impressive boasting 49 digs and 10 total blocks. Senior Darian Markham led the team with 10 digs while redshirt junior Kacia Brown was right behind her with eight. Rounding out the defensive effort was Brown, Whitekettle and Herman who all boasted three blocks each.  

“We had a physical advantage obviously, and that took over eventually,” said head coach Mike Jordan after the victory. “Credit to them for playing well in that first set and pressing us. All in all, pretty good effort.”  

The Aggies rode their momentum into the semifinals against the FIU Panthers who previously pulled an upset after defeating the third seed Middle Tennessee State. Whitekettle carried the Aggies in the 3-1 defeat over the Panthers with 15 kills while Brown was right behind with 12.  

Coming out forcefully in the first set, the Aggies dominated with a 25-15 win after retaking a 10-point lead after it was cut to five and posted a .593 hitting percentage. The Panthers retaliated taking the second set 25-23 capped with a 4-0 run.  

A 9-3 run propelled the Aggies to a pivotal 25-14 win in the third set giving them the momentum needed to emerge viciously, 25-20, in the fourth. After splitting the last six points in the fourth set, Whitekettle posted the final kill to carry her team into the conference championship.

The standout players of the match were Brown with 12 kills, 11 blocks and seven digs while Whitekittle topped the team with 15 kills and an outstanding hitting percentage of .824. Markham continued to lead the defense and posted 12 digs. 

Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics.

“We had a conversation as a team about what we can do to help our teammates and I think that led me to focusing on minimizing errors,” Whitekettle said regarding the team’s performance throughout the match. “I found that’s the best way I could come through and help my teammates moving through the season.”  

Despite looking to punch a ticket to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament, the Aggies were unable to defend the Hilltoppers’ aggressive offense and fell in three straight sets in the conference championship.  

The Aggies battled in the first set, but the Hilltoppers successfully rallied to close it out 25-21. With the energy on their side, the Hilltoppers continued to be a dominant force in the second set until the Aggies took the lead at 12-11 after three straight kills from Williams. After three Aggie attack errors, the Hilltoppers clinched a commanding 25-16 win.  

Refusing to let up, the Aggies put a valiant fight in the third set forcing eight ties with crucial kills from senior Mari Sharp, Whitekettle and Connatser. Unable to finish, the Aggies narrowly dropped the third set 27-25 but finished the match with 42 kills and 41 assists on offense complimented by five blocks and a solid 61 digs. 

Unlikely to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, the Aggies still potentially have the opportunity to continue their season by entering the National Invitational Volleyball Championship.  

“We have an invitation to the NIVC,” Jordan said. “We turned it down last year…I don’t think you should ever turn down a postseason bid, but we need to have the resources to do it. This is a team that I think can compete with a lot of teams. I’d like to see them continue to play. Nothing’s official though.”  

All further updates will be posted on NMSU’s athletics website.  

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About the Contributors
Kaden Martinez
Kaden Martinez, Staff Writer
Kaden Martinez is entering his first year at The Round Up as both a staff and a sports writing intern. This is his first time writing for a local publication (or any publication for that matter!). He is also entering his first year as a freshman majoring in Cybersecurity with a minor in Computer Engineering. Since his dad is in the military, he has moved all around New Mexico, having lived in Albuquerque, Springer, Maxwell, and finally Rio Rancho where he graduated. He is the oldest of three siblings. Kaden has always enjoyed writing, whether it was school related or as a hobby. He decided to become a member of The Round Up both to broaden his horizons and step out of his comfort zone by trying something new. Some of his interests include exercising, playing sports, video games, TV shows, and movies.
Juliana Trujillo
Juliana Trujillo, Sports Editor
Juliana Trujillo is in her first year as Sports Editor and third year with Student Media. She graduates this year with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies with minors in Sports Marketing as well as Social Media Management. She is excited for the opportunity of Sports Editor as a previous sports writer. She plans on attending graduate school and earning her masters in Strategic Communication with the hopes of working for the MLB. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outside, watching sports, and spending time with her friends. Her dog, Hazel, is also the mascot for The Round Up and is appreciated by the entire staff.

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