LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA) -- NM State’s first weekend in CUSA has concluded with a perfect 2-0 record. The Aggies took on visiting Middle Tennessee in a rematch from a day prior. While the home team swept the Blue Raiders on Friday, Saturday provided a much closer contest. In the end, NM State pulled off the win in a thrilling fifth set, taking down MTSU in consecutive days. The Aggies moved to 9-4 and 2-0 in CUSA, while MTSU fell to 8-5 (0-2 CUSA).
Set-by-set: NM State wins 3-2 (15-25, 25-20, 27-25, 22-25, 18-16)
One thing became very clear early on in the match; MTSU wasn’t going to roll over and let the sweep bother them. The Blue Raiders were convincing in their first set win, holding the Aggies to just 15 points. That number marked the second-lowest scoring output in a set so far this season (excluding fifth sets). NM State only mustered up 12 in the third set against Arizona State back on Sept. 3, but had tallied 17 or more points in every other frame of the season.
MTSU went up 16-9 after a service ace, forcing a timeout from Head Coach Mike Jordan. A 4-0 run grew their lead to 22-12, and the deficit was too great to overcome. The home team produced eight service errors, including two in the opening set, one of which closed it out at 25-15 in favor of MTSU.
Luckily for NM State, the first set has not been nearly as indicative of success as the second. The Aggies entered the day 8-0 when winning the second set, and 0-4 when dropping it. The streak continued on Saturday, as the Aggies came out on top 25-20. Following a tie at 12, transfer Aspen Aldous sparked a 6-0 run. Aldous produced back-to-back service aces in the stretch, both of which were untouched and went straight to the floor. Fittingly, it was a MTSU service error that made it 25-20 and tied the match at one set apiece. The Aggies are now 9-0 when they take the second frame.
The Aggies carried their momentum into the third set, getting out to a 10-6 lead early. It would prove to be a game of runs, however. MTSU responded with a 16-7 stretch of their own to go up 22-17. Kacia Brown was a large part of the 10-3 Aggie streak that followed, with two service aces in a three point span. Brown also added a pair of kills and an assist in the set, ultimately won 27-25 by the Aggies. Brown finished with 11 kills on .381 hitting percentage, an impressive number in a match where the team hit just .164.
The fourth set went back to the road team, on the back of star setter Taylor Eisert. With 11 assists in the set and 40 in the match, Eisert now has a remarkable 11.04 assists per set and 530 on the season. MTSU had a pair of 4-0 runs, and a pair of 3-0 runs. That combination of 14 unanswered points sealed it for MTSU, and sent the match to a decisive fifth set.
For just the second time in 2023, four sets weren’t enough to decide the outcome of the match. NM State was 1-0 entering the day in full-length matches, defeating San Francisco 15-9 in the final chapter of their Sept. 1 match. In typical Aggie fashion as of late, the set would be determined by just two points; the smallest possible margin. The final frame on Saturday marked the eighth time in 15 games that the final margin was exactly two points. After falling down 8-4, the Aggies turned to their service game to come back and win. There were 3 aces in the final 21 points of the match, all by the home team. The final point of the match was a Bianca Perez ace, giving the team their 10th of the match. Saturday marked the first time with double-digit aces since Nov. 3, 2022 at Utah Valley.
Quotes From the Pan American Center
- Head Coach Mike Jordan, on the win: “We were really up and down, and we put ourselves in jeopardy against a team that’s pretty good, and they outplayed us for long stretches. I guess if you play badly and you win, you should feel fortunate, but I have higher standards and they need to meet them.”
- Redshirt junior Kacia Brown on the key to her performance: “It’s always the support of my teammates. It’s a super positive environment. Having each other’s backs, being positive and stuff like that really affects how we play. It affects how I play specifically because I lean on my teammates a lot.”
- Kacia Brown, on the importance of being a leader during the 2-0 start: “Honestly, it means a lot, especially because this is something the school’s never done before. Being the first team to play in Conference USA and making that statement was super fun. Everybody loves each other. We all play for each other. I have confidence in every single one of my teammates. It’s a new conference, and with all of that, we’re really excited to play.”
Up Next: The Aggies will head to Ruston, La. next for their first ever road CUSA matches. The Aggies will play two against Louisiana Tech, who is currently 5-9 overall. The Bulldogs stand at 0-2 in CUSA action after dropping a pair in Miami to FIU. Both matches will be live on ESPN+, and the link can be found at nmstatesports.com.