Nov 142002
 
Authors: Lee Miller

When the CSU volleyball team closes out its conference schedule this weekend in Utah, the top seed in the Mountain West Tournament will be on the line.

The Rams will face No. 21 Utah and BYU for the second time this season. The Utes (9-3) are one match behind the Rams in a tie for second place in the conference with San Diego State. The best BYU (6-6) can hope for is to secure their spot at fourth place in the conference and prepare for the MWC tournament to be held in Fort Collins Nov. 21-23.

When the Rams hosted these two teams at Moby Arena a month ago, they lost a five-game match to BYU and upset the then-No. 16 Utes in four. Now the Rams have to put together two of the toughest wins of the season in unfriendly territory.

“It’s always difficult to play on the road,” CSU middle blocker Katie Jo Shirley said. “But winning (last week) should give us momentum to go in and play our best in other gyms.”

When the Cougars visited Fort Collins in October, they were dealing with injury problems. Middle blocker Carrie Bowers had just returned from a stress fracture injury, and the team was struggling to get blocking help in the middle.

The Cougars are still having injury problems. This time they will be without outside hitter April Varner (sprained ankle) who tallied 12 kills against the Rams a month ago.

Setter Karina Puikkonen is a player that the Rams will have to keep an eye on. In the October meeting, Puikkonen had seven kills on dump plays in which she faked a set and scored on a short spike. Those plays came at crucial times in that match, and the Rams have struggled to stop dump plays from other teams in recent matches.

“You generally don’t get beat by setters dumping,” CSU coach Tom Hilbert said. “But we have been letting it happen too much lately and it’s becoming a point of frustration. We cannot let either of these teams get away with dumping, or were in for some long nights.”

When the Rams beat the Utes in October they took sole control of the conference lead and handed the Utes their second consecutive loss.

This time the Rams have some factors playing against them.

Utah has won its last 28 matches at home and is working on a six-match winning streak. In both accounts the Rams were the last team to beat the Utes. The Rams won in Utah on Oct. 27, 2000, and were the last team to beat the Utes this season.

In the last match Utah middle blocker Kim Turner led all players with 18 kills and added four blocks. Turner has had continued success, recording double-doubles in two of her last three matches.

The Rams out-blocked the Utes 12-10 in the match and shut down Utah’s right side hitter Sabine Schulz. They must have a similar performance this time around.

The Rams need to win both matches. If they don’t, they’ll hope for some help from Wyoming, who plays Utah on Saturday, and Air Force and New Mexico, who host San Diego State this weekend.

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