Zias looking to shake off opening loss

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Since Mike Maguire became the head coach in 1987, Eastern New Mexico University’s volleyball team has occasionally struggled against NAIA foe Wayland Baptist.

Never, though, have the Zias actually lost to Wayland — until Tuesday’s stunning four-game setback in the season opener at Plainview, Texas.

On Wednesday, Maguire canceled the team’s practice and instead scheduled a film-watching session.

“I don’t think we got complacent,” he said. “I think maybe we got a little bit lucky (to win the first game before losing the next three).”

The Zias, who figure to see a tougher opponent when they host New Mexico Highlands at 7 p.m. today in their home opener at Greyhound Arena, are trying to build around three key returnees — senior Lindsay Schiely and Amber Davis and junior Grace George, all middle blockers.

One may move to an outside hitter position eventually, Maguire said. Whatever happens, others will have to step up for a team that went 25-9 (7-3 Lone Star Conference South Division) and qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs.

If they don’t, Maguire said it won’t matter how well the returning players play.

“To use your middles, you have to pass the ball,” he said. “If you can’t pass the ball, it takes (the middles) out of the game.

“We’re going to go watch film. (Tonight) will tell a little more about how we’ll respond.”

Schiely, a 6-footer from Portland, Ore., pointed out that the Zias didn’t get out of the blocks too well last year, either, before coming on strong at the end.

“I’m not concerned as far as our season,” she said. “I think we just have a lot of new girls coming in, and it just takes some time.”

Kayla Britain, a fifth-year senior from Fort Sumner, and junior Kristen Van Wettering of Portales are trying to step into outside hitter roles, although neither has had a lot of experience at the college level. Other candidates include junior Marci LeGrand, a junior college transfer; Davis, who played outside against Wayland, and freshman Rhea Wortman of Prineville, Ore.

Junior Kathryn McCannell, a transfer from Bemidji State (Minn.), is the setter. Another freshman, Kara Killian of Amarillo, is the team’s libero.

While Maguire, who has led the Zias to 16 consecutive winning campaigns, admitted some surprise at Tuesday’s loss. He said he thought the Zias might struggle because preseason workouts haven’t gone as well as he would have liked.

“I figured we could win,” he said. “I figured the performance wouldn’t be that good based on our practice. So it was kind of a double-impact.”

While Schiely is a natural middle, she said she’s willing to do whatever she can to help the team and she expects everything will take care of itself in time.

“I’m excited to see how the rest of our season is going to go,” she said. “I think everything will work itself out.”