When the CSU volleyball team left for Arkansas on Thursday morning, it knew its first large road trip would be a challenging one, playing a long way from home against some tough opponents.
Returning to Fort Collins on Sunday, the Rams had to feel they had proved something to themselves about their ability to play in adverse situations. The Rams finished Saturday night at Fayetteville’s Barnhill Arena in second place at the Razorback Invitational with a 2-1 record.
They began against Louisville on Friday night winning the second game in the match. But they couldn’t keep up with the Cardinals’ potent offense in the end, losing 26-30, 30-24, 28-30, 12-30.
The Rams got a record-breaking night from Michelle Knox, who finished with 21 kills, shattering her previous career-best of 15. She hit .469 and added two blocks.
Libero Lindsey Kerr posted her best defensive performance of the season with 18 digs and setter Melissa Courtney added 53 assists.
The Rams hung tough through the first three games, matching Louisville at the net, but were again hurt in the service game, amassing 17 service errors.
The Cardinals got 18 kills from Bing Sun and 11 from Stacey Mercer, who led all players with a .733 hitting percentage on the night.
“We played well through the first three games but we couldn’t sustain it,” CSU head coach Tom Hilbert said. “Louisville made us work for everything and when we play a match of that duration, our youth really comes out. Michelle did a good job of trying to carry us and I’m really proud of her.”
The Rams started Saturday with a sweep against Oral Roberts (30-15, 30-27, 30-24).
They got off to a good start in game one, jumping out to a 7-3 lead on kills by Andreya Downs and Becky Sarauer and finished the game with a .621 team hitting percentage.
Game two was a little closer, with Oral Roberts leading 26-20 at one point. Courtney served nine consecutive points, including two service aces, to earn the Rams a come-from-behind win.
CSU led the entire third game, getting eight kills from Tess Rogers in ten swings (.700), to finish off the match. Downs finished with 13 kills and seven blocks, followed by good performances from Knox (11 kills, five blocks) and Rogers (12 kills, .400 hitting percentage).
The Rams only committed six service errors and got five aces from Courtney, considerably improving their service game. They would be able to carry that momentum into the nightcap.
Arkansas had come into the tournament with a 7-0 record and the luxury of home-court advantage, but had already lost to Louisville when the Rams stepped onto the court to face them Saturday night.
The Rams rode the momentum of their early win and swept the Lady’Backs 30-19, 30-27, 30-27.
CSU finished out the first game with five straight service points from Katie Jo Shirley, getting help from Knox, who put together another solid performance.
The second and third games saw a lot of lead changes, with the Rams making comebacks after being down by as many as four points.
Knox finished the match with 15 kills and four blocks and got help from Shirley and Rogers who each added 10. Shirley also tallied 10 digs to earn her a double-double.
“We improved as a serving and passing team throughout this tournament,” Hilbert said. “We served and passed better than we have all year tonight. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. Michelle showed good leadership, Dre (Downs) blocked the ball well and Becky (Sarauer) looks like she’s returning to her 2001 form.”
Arkansas’ leaders included Anna Velikanova (12 kills), Libby Windell (11 kills) and Roberta Tarnauskaite (35 assists, 12 digs).
The Rams finished second in the tournament behind Louisville, who went 3-0. CSU finished 2-1 and Arkansas was able to beat Oral Roberts, who was winless for the tournament.
Knox and Downs were named to the All-Tournament team. Knox racked up 47 kills for the tournament and Downs had 36. All-Tournament honors also went to Bing Sun, Jennifer Craven and Stacey Mercer of Louisville, Patricia Menezes of Oral Roberts and Jennifer Hasser of Arkansas.
The Rams will have a full week to practice for the first time since the beginning of the season and will host the Coors Classic at Moby Arena on Friday and Saturday. Cincinnati, Gonzaga and Nevada will all be visiting.