After a long weekend in Arkansas, the No. 25 CSU volleyball team had a few days to rest and prepare for their next onslaught of opponents.
The fun begins on Friday at Moby Arena, where the Rams will host the Coors Classic. This is the sixth time the tournament has been held since 1993, and the Rams have held true to their winning ways at home with 13-2 record.
In Arkansas, the Rams were able to improve in a lot of areas that had caused them trouble earlier in the season. The Coors Classic should give them a chance to build on those improvements before they begin heavy conference play in early October.
The hottest team in the tournament is the Nevada Wolfpack, which comes to Moby Arena with the confidence of an eight-game winning streak.
“Nevada is the team we’re worried about at this point,” CSU head coach Tom Hilbert said. “They have a very good player in Michelle More and a lot of players supporting her. They’re probably the best team we’ll play in the tournament and we play them first, so the have been our main focus this week.”
The Wolfpack lost its first match of the season to Washington State, but bounced back quickly with wins against the likes of Cal-State Northridge, Sacramento State and CSU’s Mountain West rival UNLV. They have won 24 of their last 26 games.
More, a senior middle blocker, has had a solid early season. She broke all of the school’s block records early this season and needs just 64 more kills to become tops in that category. She was also named the ACVA Player of the Week in early September.
More will get help from outside hitters Laura Wooley and Kellie Burton, who are averaging 2.90 and 2.07 kills per game respectively.
The Rams and the Wolfpack have only crossed paths once previous to this weekend. The Rams took the match in four games back in 1982.
Gonzaga enters the tournament in the midst of a difficult season with a 1-8 record. The Bulldogs have had to face some pretty tough opponents and have not fared well. They were beat early in the season by BYU and suffered their eighth loss to No. 23 Eastern Washington at home on Wednesday night. They will get a chance to avenge an early season sweep against Nevada on Saturday.
“Gonzaga is in the middle of a rebuilding year and is working with a new coach,” Hilbert said. “You expect a team in this situation to have a few difficulties.”
Gonzaga’s only win of the season came against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 7.
A big problem for the Bulldogs this season has been returning services, as they have allowed more than 60 aces in nine matches. This should give CSU’s Andreya Downs a chance to boost her conference-leading 0.56 aces per game average.
Gonzaga has been getting its best performance from sophomore outside hitter Christina Davis. Her 3.70 kills per game leads the team. Senior libero Heather Signor anchors the defense with a 3.78 digs per game average.
If things weren’t already bad enough for the Bulldogs, they have dropped 41 consecutive matches against ranked teams, with an all-time record of 2-50.
Cincinnati has had a streaky 4-5 season thus far, winning their last two matches after dropping three straight. They followed up a loss to Central Michigan with wins against Wright State and Austin Peay in last week’s Wright State Raider Challenge to take second place in the tournament.
The Bearcats were good enough to compete in the 2001 NCAA Tournament, their third straight visit. They won a first round match against cross-town rival Xavier and were thwarted by No.15 Ohio State in their regional match.
The Bearcats have some heavy hitters to look out for. Sophomore outside hitter Julie DuPont brings in 5.39 kills per game. Senior Bonita Wise is also having a notable season, earning MVP honors at the Raider Challenge last week. Wise leads the team with a .277 hitting percentage.
Among their wins this season, Cincinnati boasts a victory over Louisville, who beat the Rams last Friday in Arkansas.
In preparation for this weekend’s matches, the Rams have been perfecting their ball control.
“We’ve been working on our side-out game a little, and we talked a lot about playing better defense and being better at controlling the ball,” Hilbert said.
Statistically, the Rams are playing at the top of the Mountain West. Melissa Courtney leads the conference in assists per game with a 12.81 average and Lindsey Kerr’s 3.69 digs per game is also a conference best.