By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — In 20 seasons at Eastern New Mexico University’s volleyball coach, Mike Maguire built a program that ran off 16 consecutive winning seasons, including two Lone Star Conference regular-season championships and capped by a 25-9 mark and a trip to the NCAA Division II regional finals in 2004.
After several years of doubling as the school’s athletic director, he gave up his coaching role following the 2006 season. Three years later, no longer the AD, he returned to the sideline last season and helped the struggling Zias post a 13-16 record (4-10 LSC South).
Maguire said the Zias are still in the process of building as they prepare for a season-opening tournament at West Texas A&M on Friday and Saturday.
“Recruiting was tough,” he said. “There were a couple of big ones that we missed out on, and that hurt us.”
Still, six players return with significant experience from last season, including fourth-year starter Jessica King of Las Cruces at middle blocker.
“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re more talented than a year ago,” Maguire said.
Others back include senior middle blocker Kristen Beck of Odessa, Texas; senior defensive specialist Vanessa Espinoza of Los Alamos; senior outside hitter Amber Durand of Onalaska, Wash.; junior libero Dallas Russell of Portales, and junior right side hitter Megan (Carpenter) Craft of Friendswood, Texas.
Newcomers who could help are sophomore setter Tarrah Sweet of Roswell, freshman setter Kennedi Catano of Amarillo, junior outside hitter Evelyn Escobar of Calexico, Calif.; freshman outside hitters Alix Russell of Farmington and Ivery Sanchez of Tatum, and junior libero Emily Lubbers of Yuma, Colo.
Beck, an honorable mention selection last year after transferring from Midland (Texas) College, said Maguire’s generally laid-back style is effective.
“He’s an amazing coach — my favorite coach I’ve ever had,” she said. “When you do something wrong, he doesn’t yell at you, he (corrects you) the right way.”
The Zias, picked ninth in what is now an 11-team LSC, hope to do better than that, of course.
“We’re just trying to rebuild a program,” said Beck, who had 302 kills and 28 blocks in 2010. “It’s always nice to have something to prove.
“We can do it this year. We were close last year. A lot of our players who were here last year have really improved.”