The only unbeaten volleyball team in the Mountain West Conference will lay its 3-0 record on the line this weekend when CSU explores some uncharted territory.
The Rams have been on the road before. They went on long road trips to San Diego and Arkansas earlier this year. They did pretty well too, coming back with a 4-2 combined record.
Now the stakes go up.
The Rams take their first Mountain West Conference road trip and visit two league rivals in two days, first heading to Colorado Springs tonight to face Air Force, and then flying to Albuquerque, where the University of New Mexico awaits on Saturday.
“Road trips can be stressful,” freshman Andreya Downs said. “I just try to stay focused and realize that I’m going on the road to play, not for fun.”
This trip is also the first conference road trip for many individuals on the team. With six freshmen, getting wins in the conference is the key to returning to the post season. And there are a lot of teams in the conference that have memories of being beaten many times by the stronger Ram teams of the last few years.
“Because our team is so young and inexperienced on a trip like this, this is a very important weekend for us,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “I feel like we should come back here with two wins, but this team still has a lot to learn.”
Good lessons would be best learned from this trip. The Rams will have much more challenging trips later on in the season when they visit Utah and BYU in one weekend, and travel to Las Vegas and San Diego in another.
The teams the Rams play this weekend don’t appear to be the class of the conference, but are not to be taken lightly. Winning both matches this weekend is vital in continuing the momentum the Rams picked up during a five game come-from-behind win over San Diego State last weekend.
Air Force looks to be the tougher match-up of the weekend. The Falcons come with an offensive attack that is comparable to the Rams’ and their passing game is very impressive.
“Air Force has very good outside hitters, and if we’re not putting up solid blocks they could really give us some problems,” Hilbert said. “And if they’re playing well, their middle passing game is probably the fastest one we’ll see in the conference. We won’t be able to keep up with that, so it’s important that we have a solid game at the net.”
On paper the Rams have the advantage in every area except serving, where the Falcons lead the conference averaging 1.98 aces per game.
Falcons’ outside hitter Delavane Diaz averages 4.32 kills per game, which is second best in the conference. Diaz also leads the team in aces with 31 and is second in digs with 117.
The Rams can expect good offensive numbers that should give them their best advantage. Air Force ranks last in the conference in blocks averaging 1.76 a game. This should allow Tess Rogers and Michelle Knox to put up big performances that have been vital in many of the Rams’ wins this season.
Air Force will be looking to end a losing streak against CSU that goes back to 1982. The Rams are 15-1 against Air Force, so the Falcons will try to take advantage of a young Rams team on the road.
In New Mexico on Saturday, CSU will find a Lobos team that’s 6-10 overall this season, and 1-2 in conference play. They have been unstoppable at home however, with a 5-0 record.
The Lobos do not present as much danger on the offensive side of the ball, as they are in last place in the MWC in kills and are second to last in hitting percentage.
However, the Lobos play with a lot of patience and control the ball well.
“New Mexico has players in key positions that could make this a difficult match for us,” Hilbert said.
Outside hitter Anna Reines is one of those players. She leads the team with 203 kills and is ninth in the conference.
Defensively, libero Blair Burns leads in digs with 176. There are three other players on the team with more than 100 digs.
The all-time series between these two teams is led by CSU, 23-20. The Rams also carry a 10-game winning streak against the Lobos into Albuquerque.
– Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin