1996 Year in Review
After 11 years without volleyball in Las Vegas, UNLV crashed onto the scene in 1996.
Because UNLV didn't have a team since 1985, not much was expected of the '96 Rebels. Head Coach Deitre Collins knew it would be a tough year, so she met with the team before the season began and agreed on a common goal. It was decided that for the season to be considered a success, the team would have to qualify for the inaugural Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Rebels began the season in California, by dropping two matches at the UC Irvine Anteater Invitational. UNLV then came home to host Cal State Fullerton in its first home match in 11 years. The Rebels lost the match 3-1 (15-8, 15-13, 7-15, 15-13) in front of 398 fans at the Lied Gymnasium.
After only three matches, the Rebels were ready to put a figure in the win column. When they notched their first victory of the new era, it looked as if they had been playing together for years. They impressively shut down the Panthers 3-0 (15-7, 15-7, 15-8) before 204 fans at the Lied Gymnasium on September 8.
It also didn't take the Rebels long to learn that winning consistently was a product of hard work and, of course, time. UNLV lost its next four games, three at the Four Points Classic in Lubbock, Texas, and one at home against its natural rival, Nevada, Reno.
The Rebels beat San Francisco 3-0 (15-4, 15-9, 15-6) for their second win of the year, then lost at Saint Louis before heading to Tulsa to open up the WAC season.
UNLV took what it learned during the preseason and moved full-steam ahead into WAC play. The Rebels beat Tulsa in come-from-behind fashion in their first five-game match of the year, 3-2 (15-5, 2-15, 12-15, 15-11, 15-10). UNLV then flew home to beat the Falcons of Air Force 3-1, also in a rally (9-15, 15-6, 15-9, 15-1). All of sudden UNLV found itself atop the Pacific Division standings at 2-0.
"It was so early, but it also was nice going into the WAC and taking two games," Coach Collins said. "It was a good mid-season boost and it gave us some confidence early on, but we knew we had the tough teams coming up. It is always nice though, to come in right off the bat and not be the worst team."
Things would not stay so positive, however. The Rebels proceeded to drop their next seven matches, which tied for the longest streak of the year. UNLV would find its fifth and final win of the season waiting for them at home against Tulsa on November 2. The Rebels defeated the Golden Hurricane 3-1 (15-4, 7-15, 15-13, 15-6).
UNLV dropped its final six WAC matches of the year, and backed into the WAC Tournament. The season-long goal of qualifying for the tournament was accomplished, therefore making this first season a success. "We accomplished our goals by making the conference tournament, however we did struggle at times," said Collins.
"That's what made it such an up-and-down season. We beat some teams we should have, but at the same time we lost some games we should have won. That is something that we want to change. We didn't expect to win the WAC but there were definitely some matches that we were competitive in and didn't win. We were a young team and it was a good learning experience."
The Rebels were seeded 12th in the WAC Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and lost to fifth-seeded Utah 3-0 (15-11, 15-4, 15-8) to finish the season with a record of 5-22. In WAC play they ended up in seventh place in the Pacific Division at 3-13.
The 1996 campaign had some impressive individual performances. Sophomore setter Meri-de Boyer, the lone Rebel with NCAA Division I experience heading into the season, turned in five triple-doubles on the year. She had double figures in kills, assists and digs against North Texas, UNR, Tulsa, Air Force, and Wyoming. In those five matches Boyer averaged 13.6 kills, 23.4 assists, and 14.6 digs. At one point during the season, she led the nation in triple-doubles.
At Tulsa, on September 28, Boyer and freshman outside hitter Kim DeWitt entered the UNLV record books with their performances. The two each netted 19 digs catapulting them into the top spot for most digs in a match, surpassing the previous mark of 18 set in 1985 by three players.
When UNLV battled Hawai'i, it was special for Coach Collins (Hawai'i is her alma mater) to face her mentor in Hawai'i's head coach Dave Shoji. It was also special for those who attended the matches, as both were record-setting affairs. On October 18, UNLV hosted the Rainbow Wahine in front of a Rebel-record crowd of 1,251, while the rematch in Honolulu brought in the most fans to ever witness a WAC match, 9,723.
"We now know what we are going to need to do to become better and become a top competitor in the WAC," said Collins. "Having only one person on the team who had even played collegiate volleyball prior to the season, we were all introduced to what collegiate volleyball is. It's not like we stepped into an easy conference. We stepped into a very tough conference and at the same time we learned what collegiate volleyball, Division I volleyball, and WAC volleyball are all about."