By Eric Butler, Freedom New Mexico Correspondent
PORTALES — Wearing a sweat-soaked jersey by the end of the night, Veronica Valdez-Kent was the picture of a hard-working player on a team struggling mighty. Valdez, a former Canyon High standout, is a sophomore outside hitter for the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team.
On the other end of the court was her former high school teammate at Canyon — junior Katie Rickwartz, the primary setter for West Texas A&M. Rickwartz couldn’t have had a more opposite appearance.
But that’s the way it goes when two teams are going in different directions.
Rickwartz and the Lady Buffs easily turned back the Zias 25-14, 25-16, 25-20 in a Lone Star Conference match on Tuesday at Greyhound Arena.
West Texas A&M, ranked third in Division II, pushed its record to 25-4 overall and 9-0 in the LSC. ENMU (6-24, 0-9), meanwhile, lost its 10th straight contest.
For her part, Rickwartz only played in the first set of the victory and rested for the remainder of the match.
“We just wanted to take this opportunity to give the girls, who haven’t been getting much time on the court, to give them a little more time and get them playing,” Rickwartz said.
Rickwartz graduated from Canyon a year ahead of Valdez.
Refering to her former teammate by her nickname, Rickwartz said that Valdez had the resiliency to fight through the kind of season that the Zias are currently in.
“Noni’s just a fighter and she’s going to make the best of any situation she’s in,” Rickwartz said. “I don’t think she really cares much about (the losing season). I think she’s just looking to go out and do a great job every time.”
Though playing the whole match, Valdez didn’t get consistent hitting opportunities until the end as Eastern struggled to pass the ball effectively.
Down 20-11 in the third set, ENMU scored eight of the next 10 points to move to within three. In that stretch, Valdez-Kent recorded three of her six kills on the night.
“It’s frustrating knowing that Tony (Graystone, West Texas A&M’s coach) is putting in his bench against us,” Valdez said. “It’s really frustrating, but at the same time, they’re all girls that I’ve seen before; girls I’ve played with.
“I just try to play my hardest. And that’s all you can do when you’re going against the No. 3 team in the nation.”
The Lady Buffs were led by Laura Prinsen’s 14 kills, while Melissa Harper added 10. Valdez led the Zias in kills, and Caitlin Murphy added got 18 digs.
Eastern New Mexico will attempt to halt its losing streak on Thursday at Southeastern Oklahoma.
“In some areas, I think we’re improving,” ENMU coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “You hope that your team is moving forward, and I really think we are.”