By Mickey Winfield: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — The Kim Falkenhagen era in Eastern New Mexico University volleyball begins immediately.
Falkenhagen replaces 20-year Zias coach Mike Maguire, who gave up the post after last season, and she takes over a squad that was picked to finish last in the 13-team Lone Star Conference preseason poll a couple of weeks ago.
Despite that, Falkenhagen has the conference’s postseason tournament in her sights.
“Realistically, we’re going to get to the conference tournament,” Falkenhagen said. “That’s our ultimate goal; how far we get (beyond that) is even better.
“We’re going to definitely improve from last year, and we’ll go from there. We don’t want to set too high of goals or set too low of goals. We’ll just work our hardest and see where it takes us.”
Senior outside hitter Jessie Macknicki echoed Falkenhagen’s thoughts.
“(We want to) definitely get into the conference tournament this year, because we just missed it last year,” senior outside hitter Jessie Macknicki said. “I think we can really do well in the conference tournament.”
Falkenhagen believes she has a good mix of young and experienced in her first year on the job.
“I think we’re a little bit of both,” she said. “We’ve got some returners and I’ve got a lot of new players and I’m with a new program, so we’ve got a little bit of the old and the new put together.”
Falkenhagen’s first group at Eastern features just four juniors and two returning seniors — outside hitters Randi Egley and Macknicki.
“She seems like a great coach,” Macknicki said. “I think this year is going to be a definite turnaround from last year. We’re going to improve a lot.”
The Zias have just finished two-a-days and are looking forward to the season.
“Practice has gone really good,” Egley said. “We’re intense, we have our good days and bad days, but we’ve had mostly good days so far.”
Falkenhagen is familiar with the LSC, having served as a graduate assistant for the Lady Buffs from 2000-02.
“I am real excited to get the season started,” she said. “You like to get into the gym and practice and all that, but you’re always ready for the first game and I want to see exactly what we’ve got and what we need to work on.”
The Zias begin play in the West Texas A&M tournament today at Canyon, playing Incarnate Word at noon (MDT), followed by Pittsburg State at 4 p.m. The Zias battle New Mexico Highlands at 1 p.m. and Oklahoma Panhandle State at 3 p.m. on Saturday.