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UNLV volleyball coach sets record by speeding to 100th victory

It took a few hours for the weight of UNLV volleyball coach Dawn Sullivan’s achievement to hit her.

Sullivan only realized she’d reached the 100-win milestone when her team presented her with the game ball after UNLV’s 3-1 win against San Jose State on Oct. 20. But as she drove home from Cox Pavilion, Sullivan said she was overcome by a wave of appreciation.

“There’s been a lot of different, moving pieces, but what I’ve always felt here at UNLV was support,” Sullivan said. “People have just bought into this program, and I just felt really grateful.”

Sullivan is the fastest UNLV volleyball coach to reach 100 wins in program history. Allison Keeley didn’t win her 100th game with the Rebels until her seventh season in charge. Cindy Fredrick won her 100th match during her sixth year. Sullivan achieved the feat in just 136 games, during her fifth season.

The Rebels (20-3, 11-1 Mountain West) have lost a combined nine conference games during the past three seasons.

“We’ve just done a really good job of developing a standard of excellence,” Sullivan said. “When the girls walk into our gym, they know what to expect.”

UNLV came up short in the Mountain West championship match last season, losing 3-1 to Boise State, but the Rebels won the National Invitational Volleyball Championship by sweeping Valparaiso 3-0.

This year’s team is intent on returning to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Sullivan said she thought the Rebels might need a few weeks to jell after losing four key senior contributors, but instead, they started the season in scorching fashion, winning seven of their first eight matches.

Sullivan credited the Rebels’ chemistry for helping them begin the season on the right track, and junior right-side hitter Gabrielle Arretche-Ramos agreed.

“The level of communication and trust that we have is just so good,” Arretche-Ramos said. “It just feels like everything is natural.”

Several factors could have compromised UNLV’s chemistry early. Sullivan introduced a new offense this season, committing to a one-setter system instead of a two-setter arrangement.

Sullivan also chose to trust Texas graduate transfer Jhenna Gabriel to lead the offense. The move displaced junior setter Arien Fafard, one of last season’s starters, but both players stepped into their new roles seamlessly.

“It’s really just one, big, happy family,” Gabriel said. “I know it’s easy to say that, but I think it’s something we really live here. You see it on the court, you see it off the court. It’s just a really strong group of girls.”

UNLV beat Kansas in four sets on Sept. 9, and after losing the Mountain West opener, the Rebels have ripped off 11 straight wins to lead the conference by a game over Colorado State and San Jose State. UNLV also is ranked 23rd in the NCAA volleyball Rating Percentage Index, which helps set the NCAA Tournament field.

With Sullivan signing a five-year extension in April, UNLV volleyball might just be getting started.

“This is what we’ve always wanted UNLV to be,” Arretche-Ramos said.

The Rebels host Air Force at 6 p.m. Thursday at Cox Pavilion.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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