Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
After making its first appearance in NCAA Division II postseason competition last fall, the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team is in a bit of a rebuilding mode.
Coach Mike Maguire, beginning his 18th year at the helm, welcomed nearly 20 players to the start of practice on Monday — about half of them freshmen.
“We have lots of new faces,” said Maguire, who led the Zias to the program’s 16th consecutive winning season (25-9) in 2004. “On the good side, we have three strong middles coming back.”
The Zias, he said, will build around senior middle blockers Lindsay Schiely and Amber Davis and junior middle blocker Grace George.
Having some of the newcomers progress quickly will be important if the Zias hope to challenge the top teams in the Lone Star Conference South Division.
“We’re working on a lot of fundamentals,” Maguire said. “We’re going to have to have a few people step up for us. That’s the main thing.”
Maguire is also hoping to have a graduate assistant in place by next week. Longtime assistant Sia Poyer left in March to become the head coach at Division II Valdosta State (Ga.).
Anna Bellum, who completed her college eligibility in last year’s regional tournament, is staying on to help as a student assistant this fall.
Soccer — Both ENMU programs also began workouts on Monday. The second-year Greyhounds and third-year Zias hope to take advantage of favorable home schedules to move up after being picked for seventh place, respectively, in the Southwest Soccer Conference (men) and Lone Star Conference (women).
“We’ve got a good core returning,” women’s coach Travis McCorkle said. “Right now we’re just trying, day by day, to get everyone on the same page.”
The Zias went from 3-12 in their first season to 9-9-2 last fall, just missing out on the last of six berths in the LSC postseason tournament. McCorkle said the returning players are taking charge.
“I’m very happy with our returners,” he said. “They’re speeding up that process of getting everyone on the same page.”
Men’s coach Carlos Elizondo, who has been recovering from a recent ankle injury, said the Hounds hope to at least get this year to the level the Zias reached last season.
“We want to hit .500,” said Elizondo, whose squad was a respectable 6-12-2 (3-10-1 SSC) in its inaugural campaign. “It won’t be an easy thing, but it’ll be doable.”
The Hounds are trying to blend a solid crop of returnees with new players whom Elizondo thinks can help.
“We’ve cut down our numbers to 24 (from 31 last year),” he said. “We have a lot of kids back, but we’ve made a lot of changes.”
Cross country — Second-year coach Joel McMullen said 24 runners — 13 men, 11 women — are scheduled to check in on Friday. Practice begins on Monday, and ENMU doesn’t have a meet until Sept. 2 at West Texas A&M.
McMullen said the Hounds and Zias each have five returnees from last year. ENMU placed fifth in men’s competition and ninth on the women’s side in the LSC meet.
“It’ll probably be the largest (cross country) team they’ve had in ages here,” McMullen said. “And we might have some walkons in addition to that.”
McMullen, hired shortly before the 2004 season, said he feels better about his teams’ prospects this fall.
“Last year you come in and already have your hand dealt to you,” McMullen said. “It was a ‘feeling-out’ process. We made significant progress, I thought, but I cleaned some house and did a lot of recruiting.
“The recruiting process went really, really well. We got a lot of new kids in here, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”