Sep 052002
Authors: Lee Miller

If you’re going to drop your home win-loss record to 55-2 in the last three years, you may as well do it against one of the best.

Ram volleyball lost its first match of the season Thursday night to No. 5 Long Beach State.

The 18th ranked Rams expected a very tough game, and they got it. They were able to take one game, losing in four (24-30, 26-30, 30-26, 23-30).

“You never want to lose,” head coach Tom Hilbert said, “but it’s good to play tough competition right now. They made us play hard and we need teams to push us and make us better.”

The Rams started the evening out quite well, leading by as many as four points in the first game. They were leading 23-20 when Heather Laudato led the 49ers on nine straight service points.

The Niners out-hit the Rams .211 to.176 in the first game. Once again service errors plagued the Rams; they tallied up five errors.

“Our main problem with the serves is that we rushed too many of them,” said setter Melissa Courtney.

The Niners got great performances on the night from senior middle blocker Elisha Thomas (15 kills) and setter/ outside hitter Brittany Hochevar (10 kills, 44 assists), who played high school volleyball at Fowler, Colo. She brought in nearly 50 friends and family members to support Long Beach State.

“It was great to be home, and really nice to have the whole family at the game,” Hochevar said.

The Niners dominated the second game statistically, holding the Rams to a .067 hitting percentage and matching up with three blocks. The Rams once again jumped out to an early lead, but they couldn’t hold on.

“When we blew those leads, I know it took a toll on me personally, and I’m sure the rest of the team felt the same,” Rams senior Michelle Knox said. “We didn’t do a good job of refocusing, and that’s something we will definitely have to work on.”

The Rams came back with a solid performance in game three, out-hitting the Niners .361 to .179. The Rams also turned in five blocks in the come from behind victory. Freshmen Tess Rogers and Dre Downs took control of the game, tallying 11 kills between them. Downs added two service aces.

The 49ers finished the Rams off in the fourth game with some impressive serving from Hochevar and another domination performance in the middle by Elisha Thomas. Even with the comfortable 3-1 win, 49ers head coach Brian Gimmillaro still felt like the team barely escaped.

“Our counterattack was a little quicker, but that was probably the difference,” Gimmillaro said. “We didn’t block well, we didn’t hit well and we weren’t up to par on defense. It’s early in the season as far as developing offense, and we need to work on executing one thing at a time.”

Dre Downs turned in another impressive performance on the outside, leading the Rams with 17 kills and a .519 hitting percentage.

The Niners were able to shut down the Rams middle attack, keeping the normally dominant Knox and Katie Jo Shirley quiet over the course of the night. But unforced errors also contributed to the pairs’ low production.

“Passing was the main reason Michelle was not getting good shots,” said Hilbert. “She was also up against Elisha (Thomas), and it was hard to get her involved.”

The loss for the Rams was the first of the young season and it snapped a 20-match home winning streak. The last time the Rams lost at home was in the Mountain West Tournament finals against BYU.

The Rams did deal the Niners their first game loss of the season and held them to their worst hitting percentage at .199. The Rams also out-blocked the Niners 16-10.

The Niners will play a match at 5 p.m. on Friday against Wyoming at Moby Arena. The Rams will play the Cowboys on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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