LAS CRUCES – Mike Jordan doesn’t see his unusually large roster as a problem.
Most college volleyball rosters carry 12 scholarship players and five or six walk-ons on a 17 or 18-person roster. New Mexico State will carry 24 players on its roster this year, and Jordan, NMSU’s head coach, is convinced the Aggies are taking more walk-ons than nearly any program in the country.
But there’s a method to Jordan’s madness.
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Over-recruiting and taking an abnormally large number of walk-ons, in addition to extensive communication with players, is how NMSU’s volleyball staff has adapted to the transfer-filled era of college athletics – and maintained its place atop the Western Athletic Conference. It’s how Jordan has found a synthesis between the dialectic of building a team year-over-year with massive roster turnover expected most seasons and building a program capable of maintaining its continued success.
And its how he’s laid a foundation he’s confident is capable of propelling the Aggies back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019. Even with 13 new players.
“We over-recruit. We’re always thinking, or right now I might be saying to myself, ‘I don’t need a setter next year,’ but that might change. So we’re communicating with setters,” Jordan said. “Last year, we had a setter, Carly (Aigner-Swesey), that grad transferred out. I knew early enough that that was going to happen in my conversations with her, so you’ve got to communicate really well. And if you communicate really well, then you get a better idea of what the players are thinking.”
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Communication isn’t new to NMSU’s volleyball program, but Jordan has placed an added emphasis on it to better track personnel during the season since the introduction of the transfer portal. He views it as essential to be able to constantly assess the team’s future needs and begin contacting prospective transfers as soon as they enter the portal, and it’s how he was able to haul in a plethora of transfers for this year’s team.
(The transfer portal) allows you to fill a need. We had a need at outside hitter, and going and getting (Michigan State transfer) Molly (Johnson) and (Iowa transfer) Kacia (Brown) fills that need for us,” Jordan said. “When you’re looking at your program and saying, ‘I need to get more physical at the outside hitter position,’ this helps from that standpoint. It helps in that regard.”
But recruiting is only half the battle. And Jordan is largely happy with where his team sits developmentally heading into the season.
The phase of the season Jordan views as most important — the spring — went as well as NMSU could have hoped. Players developed into their natural roles during the team’s six weeks of training and practicing, and players like Johnson, Brown, sophomore setter Alana Embry and junior outside hitter Mari Sharp impressed. They’ll also return redshirt freshman Mia Peterson, who missed last season with an achilles injury.
Assuming the team isn’t plagued by injuries again this season like it was last year, and assuming Jordan won’t have to suspend two starters, NMSU should have the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament after falling short the last two seasons. The team will also look to win its first Tournament game since 2008 — the last time any NMSU sports team won an NCAA Tournament game before men’s basketball defeated UConn last season.
The Aggies will play a Crimson-White scrimmage at the Pan American Center Aug. 16 before playing an exhibition contest against New Mexico Highlands Aug. 20. NMSU officially opens the season at the Wildcat Classic in Tuscon, Ariz. against LIU Brooklyn. The Aggies will also play Arizona and Alabama State in the tournament later this month.
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“For us, (the goal is) to win the conference tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament,” Jordan said. “But it’s been a long time since we’ve (won a NCAA Tournament game). And that’s the goal.”