USAF ACADEMY, Colo. – The Air Force volleyball team opened the Mountain West season with a 3-1 loss to New Mexico on Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Academy’s East Gym. After dropping the first two sets 25-17 and 25-21, the Falcons won the third set by a 25-21 margin, before falling 26-24 in the fourth.
Sophomore Akokwe Clement, who led all players with 14 kills, was one of three Falcons to reach double-digit totals in kills, as senior Cami Richan and sophomore Maggie Sherrill added 12 and 10, respectively. Junior Ayesha Hein, who hit at a .400 clip, led the team in blocks with four total stops, including a solo block in the fourth set. Classmate Hillary Keltner accounted for 47 assists, as the Falcons out-killed the Lobos by eight (57-49). Senior Josalynn Wise paced the team with 10 digs, while tallying one of the team’s two service aces (Rebecca Bates had the other).
The Falcons struggled from the serving line during the opening set, committing seven errors at the line. After New Mexico tallied the first two points, Richan put the Falcons on the board with a kills. The Lobos maintained an advantage throughout the set, although a pair of UNM attacking errors helped Air Force pull within one at the 13-12 mark. A kill from Sherrill brought the Falcons within two (17-15), but New Mexico took the first set 25-17
“We dug ourselves a big hole in the first (set),” head coach Matt McShane following the match. “Then, we had to just try and climb out the rest of the time. I’m proud of the way they fought. We started playing about as well as we have been playing lately. We played pretty well after the first game, but we’re playing a team that is pretty good and you can’t give them that much of a lead.”
New Mexico quickly claimed an 11-5 advantage on the Falcons to open the second set, despite kills from Clement and Hein. A block from Hein and Keltner pulled Air Force within two (16-14), while Keltner added a kill at the 17-15 mark to keep the Falcons within two. New Mexico scored the five of the next six points, en route to a 25-21 victory.
Clement scored the first offensive point for Air Force in the fourth set, as the Falcons quickly jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Sophomore Raquel Rosas teamed up with Clement for a block and added an additional kill during the run, while Wise served up an ace that forced the Lobos to call an early timeout. Kills from Sherrill and Richan helped the Falcons double up New Mexico at 10-5, but the Lobos responded with a fast 5-0 run to pull within two at 15-13. Keltner added a pair of kills, but New Mexico evened the set at 18 and took the lead on the ensuing point. Trailing 20-18, another Keltner kill brought the Falcons within one, while a score from Richan gave the Falcons back the lead at 21-20. Richan (two) and Hein (one) accounted for three of Air Force’s next four points, as they avoided the sweep with a 25-21 win.
The two squads traded points throughout the fourth set, matching scores during each of the first five points. New Mexico took a two-point advantage (7-5), but Air Force responded and took its own two-point lead (11-9) off of a kill from Clement. A kill from Richan extended the Falcons’ lead to three (13-10), but New Mexico evened the set at 15. Hein added a kill and Bates recorded her ace, as the Falcons matched the score at 19. They took the lead on the following point with another kill from Clement, but a 4-0 run by New Mexico gave the Lobos a 23-21 advantage. An attacking error by New Mexico and a score from Clement helped Air Force tie the set at 24, but the Lobos captured the final two points for the 26-24 win.
The Falcons close out non-conference action on Saturday, Sept. 21, with a pair of matches at the Academy’s East Gym. Air Force will face UC Riverside at noon, before hosting Utah Valley at 6 p.m.