By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Trying to escape the Lone Star Conference cellar Thursday night, the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team came up short.
ENMU bolted to a 7-0 lead in a decisive fifth game, but the Zias couldn’t hang on and lost to Southeastern Oklahoma 30-26, 23-30, 30-24, 28-30, 16-14.
Sophomore outside hitter Destiny Brown had 29 kills and 22 digs and freshman middle blocker Jordan Parks added 24 kills for the Savage Storm (7-19, 2-9 LSC), which has struggled all season in its own right.
Southeastern, which closes at LSC champion West Texas A&M on Saturday, came in with a five-match losing streak and losses in 16 of its last 18. Meantime, the Zias (4-25, 0-12) dropped 23 of their final 25 matches after a 2-2 start.
The difference is that while the Zias were swept 15 times this season, Southeastern has taken at least one game off all but six of its opponents.
“Both of us are fairly young teams,” Savage Storm coach Skip Freeman said. “You can look really good at times and really bad at times.
“It was a good victory for us, but it was a tough, hard-fought win.”
After holding on to win the fourth game, the Zias raced ahead in the fifth with senior Jessie Macknicki on the service line. Macknicki opened with an ace, and surge was capped by consecutive kills from freshman outside hitter Veronica Valdez, who posted a season-high 21 kills to go with 19 digs for the match.
It was still 9-3 when the Savage Storm mounted an 8-0 run to take the lead, helped when ENMU junior Caitlin Murphy was called for a back-row attack even though she was on the front row at the time.
Still, ENMU got to match point at 14-13 when Vanessa Wilcox and Karen McIntyre combined to block Brown, but Crystal Trussell’s tip-kill tied it and the Zias then committed errors on the final two points.
Freeman said Brown spent her freshman year at Texas-San Antonio playing basketball, but transferred to Southeastern this year. Her boyfriend is on the Savage Storm’s football team.
“We’re glad to have her,” he said. “She has the potential to be a really special player.
“Destiny Brown and Jordan Parks are our go-to players, and the good thing about it is they’re still young.”
First-year Zias coach Kim Falkenhagen said her team worked hard throughout the season.
“It’s really hard to have a season like this when you fight as hard as we did,” she said. “It was a rebuilding year for us, as next year probably will be. You just kind of have to move forward.”
Macknicki finished with 14 kills, 16 digs and two aces. Junior Randi Egley added eight kills and 10 total blocks for the Zias, while Wilcox had seven kills and seven total blocks.