Zias looking for turnaround

By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico

Like many coaches, Eastern New Mexico University’s Kim Falkenhagen isn’t much for preseason polls.

After suffering through a winless Lone Star Conference campaign in 2007, her first year at the school, Falkenhagen said the Zias are ready to turn the page. ENMU was picked next-to-last in the 14-team LSC.

“I don’t make any predictions about where we’re going to be in the conference,” she said. “We deserve to be where we are (picked), but I think we’re doing OK. We’re working hard and getting after it.

“We want to do better, and I think we will do better.”

The Zias open the season next weekend in a two-day tournament in San Antonio, hosted by St. Mary’s.

Returning outside hitter-middle blocker Vanessa Wilcox said the Zias (4-25, 0-12 LSC in 2007) were encouraged by a recent scrimmage against New Mexico Military.

“We worked well together,” said Wilcox, a 5-foot-10 senior from Houston. “It was like we’ve been playing together longer than we have.

“We look a lot stronger than we did last year. We have to just keep our heads up and hope for the best.”

Falkenhagen, who played on an NCAA Division II national championship team in 1994 and a national runnerup team the following year at Northern Michigan, said the Zias are a work in progress.

“We’ve put a full year into recruiting,” she said. “We’re still rebuilding, but the team comes in with a better understanding of what I expect.”

Wilcox will see more time in the middle after playing mainly outside hitter last year. Falkenhagen has also switched senior libero Nicole Vandenploeg to outside hitter.

“Our goal is to have a winning season,” Wilcox said. “We’re trying to set realistic goals. As a senior captain, I just want to lead the team well and help us do well.”

The Zias may at least start the year without senior middle blocker Megan Weitz, who sustained a torn ACL last season and is still trying to make it back. Other returnees are junior libero Caitlin Murphy, sophomore outside hitter Veronica Valdez, sophomore setters Karen McIntyre and Grace Brandt and junior defensive specialist Heide Geyer.

Among the freshmen, 6-foot middle blocker Jessica King of Las Cruces (Onate H.S.) could have a big impact.

West Texas A&M is the preseason favorite in the LSC.

“That’s obviously our rival,” Wilcox said. “We have to be very prepared, but we get pumped up for that game.”

Falkenhagen hopes the Zias have at least taken the first steps back toward respectability.

“It always takes at least two years to get back on track in recruiting,” she said. “Our goal is to just do the best we can, improve on some of the things we did well last year and get stronger in areas where we didn’t do as well.”