By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico wanted to send a message before its weekend tournament. They sent the message quick.
Playing in a warmup home match before the two-day ENMU Invitational, the Zias held off challenges from a struggling New Mexico Highlands squad to notch a 25-21, 25-15, 25-13 victory Thursday at Greyhound Arena.
The Zias (1-4) pulled away early in their final two games to keep the Cowgirls winless and, third-year ENMU coach Kim Falkenhagen hoped, send a message to teams on ENMU’s tournament slate.
“Not only does it give our girls some confidence,” Falkenhagen said, “but it makes other teams aware they have to be ready for us.”
In a 4-25 campaign last season, the Zias swept just two opponents.
“It feels so good,” said Veronica Valdez-Kent, who had a match-high 11 kills on the night. “This is the first time we’ve swept a team since last year against William Jessep and it feels good. We’re going to have a lot more of them.”
Actually, the Zias beat William Jessup 3-0 in September last year and then, eight days later, posted a sweep of Grand Canyon.
Eastern took control in the second game as Grace Brandt served the squad to a 6-0 run, and the Zias never allowed more than two consecutive Cowgirls points in a quick third-game dispatching.
Valdez-Kent said the team sets goals at the beginning of each set, and this year has the weapons to complete those goals.
“We have more height, we have more talent,” said Valdez-Kent, who had four kills during an 8-3 third-game burst to put the match on ice. “I think coach has done a good job recruiting and preparing us in practice for special situations.”
Karen McIntyre led the Zias with 23 assists, while libero Caitlin Murphy posted 22 digs. Sophomore Jessica King added eight kills for the Zias.
“The team is really playing well,” Falkenhagen said. “They work hard and they’re very athletic. Also, this was our first game at home, and I think they were just excited and ready to play.”
Dominique Benton had five kills to lead NMHU (0-6).
Both teams are in action in today’s tournament schedule. The Cowgirls face Fort Hays State in a 3 p.m. match, while the Zias close out the six-game day against Missouri Western.