ENMU volleyball team has high hopes

Freedom New Mexico: Eric Butler Caitlin Murphy (foreground), the only senior on this year’s ENMU volleyball roster, practices on Wednesday with her Zias teammates. Murphy was a second-team All Lone Star Conference selection last season.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

An 0-4 beginning of the 2009 season may not be something to stand on the roofs and shout about, but Eastern New Mexico University’s volleyball team members are actually pointing at the start as a major improvement.

The experienced Zias know how quickly things can go south, as first-hand participants in a 4-25 campaign from last year, and are determined not to let it happen again.

“It was a struggle,” said senior Caitlin Murphy, one of the bright spots for ENMU in ’08 at her libero position. “It was just a bad year for us, all in all. We had injuries, people getting sick and being out all the time. It was like one thing after another.

“I’m so excited to be a senior on this team, because we look so much better than we have in a while.”

ENMU begins its home schedule by hosting New Mexico Highlands at Greyhound Arena at 7 p.m. today. Then, on Friday and Saturday, the Zias host an invitational that includes Missouri Western, Colorado State-Pueblo and Fort Hays State.

A graduate of Amarillo Tascosa, Murphy is the only senior on the young Zias roster and last year set a school record for digs in a single season.

“How we ended last year, we wanted to set the bar high this year,” she said. “Coming back from the tournament we just went to, I don’t think it can get much better than it is right now.”

Eastern started its ’09 slate by playing at a tournament at Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.

Though they didn’t pick up a victory, the Zias were satisfied at the way they played against some difficult competition. Particularly heartening for ENMU was a four-game loss to Truman State, ranked No. 9 in NCAA Division II, to close out the tournament.

It was a match where the Zias won one game and, according to third-year coach Kim Falkenhagen, could easily have taken the fourth as well and sent the match to the five-game limit.

“It (the tourney) went very well,” she said. “We also played No. 3 in the country (Emporia State) and they were very good.

“Dallas Baptist, which we played first, I think it might have been different if we played them later. That first one, we had some first-match jitters.”

This season, look for Veronica Valdez-Kent to be steady at the setter position and she’ll send her passes to the likes of sophomores Jessica King and Sarah Koch — both of whom were on the squad last year.

The Zias this season have an influx of new hitters, however, and the frontline corps is taller than last year and has a more local flavor as well.

Junior Megan Kabrick joins former Portales High teammate Dallas Russell, a freshman, on the team. Rio Rancho frosh Madison Rhoades is a newcomer, as is Jennifer Schaap, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Clovis Christian, and Bree Anna Lucero from Fort Sumner.

“Right now, compared to where we were at this point last year, we are more than a 100 percent better, I think,” Valdez-Kent said. “We have so much potential. All the new freshmen that came in this year, not only are they tall but they’re really good at volleyball too.”