Dec 012004
Authors: Stephanie Lindberg

This is when it matters. With regular season over, now every win is a pass to the next round and a loss means a sudden end to the season.

The first round of NCAA volleyball tournament starts today in Fort Collins with a potent line up, including the only undefeated team in the nation, Hawaii.

No. 2 Hawaii (28-0), will play Colorado (14-13) at 5 p.m. in Moby Arena. At 7 p.m., CSU (26-3) will battle Purdue (16-14). The winners of the matches will advance to the second round and play on Friday at 7 p.m.

Though questions concerning possibly playing Hawai'i in the second round were raised, CSU head coach Tom Hilbert remained focused on Purdue, a team he thinks will be a difficult opponent.

"I think we need to have our focus now and that's on Purdue," Hilbert said. "If we look past that we're making a big mistake. (Purdue is) going to shock people with their athletic ability. They will not beat themselves."

Purdue head coach David Shondell is also taking it one game at a time.

"We have to do what we have been doing all year long and take one opponent at a time," said Shondell in a press release. "We have to continue to play the way we did to get into the tournament."

While some might be worried about possibly having to face an undefeated team like Hawaii, Hilbert said he was excited.

"I see it as really a great opportunity," Hilbert said. "This draw doesn't bother me at all. I literally don't care. We're going to have to beat very good teams. We have to beat someone down the road so why not do it at home?"

Tied for sixth in the Big Ten Conference, Purdue received an at-large bid into the tournament. Both Purdue and CSU faced Georgia Tech and Minnesota this season, CSU went 1-1 and Purdue was 1-2.

Senior middle blocker Kim McConaha leads the Boilermakers with 4.05 kills and 1.17 blocks per game while junior outside hitter Leah Wischmeier averages 4.01 kills per game. As a team, Purdue is hitting .256 with 16.85 kills per game and 2.28 blocks.

"It looks like they're a team with a great deal of balance," Hilbert said. "(McConaha) is obviously a player you're going to have to focus on."

On the Rams' side of the net, three starters are hitting over .300 and three are hitting at least three kills per game. Senior middle blocker Bri Frech leads the team in blocks with 1.29 per game followed by fellow senior blocker Katie Jo Shirley-Cahoon with 1.28 per game. Frech also leads the team in service aces with .40. Senior setter Melissa Courtney needs just three service aces to become the school leader in the category.

The key in practice this week has been defense.

"We've been working on defense a lot and blocking," said junior right-side hitter Dre Downs. "We have to remember to just play volleyball. It's two good teams playing."

After a long season fatigue can be an issue, but Hilbert thinks this team is ready.

"We're playing very well right now," Hilbert said. "We're peaking at the right time. I think the players feel fresh right now."

Some of the players agreed.

"Physically, now that we're not lifting every day, we're a lot fresher," said senior outside hitter Becky Sarauer.

While Purdue looks to play spoiler against CSU, Colorado will try to knock off Hawaii.

The Buffs finished sixth in the Big 12 Conference and have one major injury that could affect their chances. Junior outside hitter Maragda Santillana was averaging 4.17 kills per game but has missed the last nine matches due to a shoulder injury. Junior right-side hitter Allie Griffin leads the team with 4.27 kills per game. Sophomore middle blocker Lara Bossow has a team best 1.04 blocks per game.

The Hawaii Rainbow Wahine are led by sophomore outside hitter Alicia Arnott with 4.14 kills per game while junior middle blocker Victoria Prince has a team best .421 hitting percentage and 1.62 blocks per game. Hawaii also has a key injury. Junior libero Ashley Watanabe will be out with a hand injury. Watanabe was averaging 4.22 digs per game.

"(CU) could make an upset," Hilbert said. "There are no teams in our region that are unbeatable."

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