Volleyball starts season

Aug 212005
Authors: Paul Baker

The heartbreak of last year's season left a sour feeling among many of the CSU volleyball players, as the Rams were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This season the nationally-ranked Rams, at No. 22, were picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference preseason poll, conducted by the coaches and selected media. The Cougars of BYU were picked first with Utah being a close second.

"It doesn't bother me at all," head coach Tom Hilbert said of the ranking. "BYU returns the most people. Utah and us were hurt by graduation, but Utah has a talented freshman class coming in and they'll be tough."

The Rams are the only team of the three that are ranked nationally in the CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25, but still were picked behind BYU and Utah.

"You can see nationally that we have respect outside the MWC," Senior Tess Rogers said.

Hilbert is returning for his ninth season on the bench for the Rams, and is looking to take his three returning seniors to glory this year.

"These three seniors are the type of kids that I love to coach. They all came into this season in great shape and ready to compete. Collectively they are the best seniors in the league," said Hilbert.

Senior outside hitter Tess Rogers, was selected as the MWC co-player of the year along with BYU middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock. Outside hitter Dre Downs was also selected to the preseason all-conference team. The other senior on the team is outside hitter Casey Bauer.

The Rams also bring in a talented freshman class to replace the seven players lost to graduation.

"Our freshman class are very skilled and competent players," said Hilbert. "We should be able to have some competitive lineups with them in there."

This year's freshman class consists of Ashley Fornstrom, Tessa Nelson, Mekana Barnes, Jaime Strauss and Kelsey Hoff.

Barnes, Strauss and Hoff are expected to see immediate playing time.

"Kelsey and Strauss are both looking pretty good right now, and Mekana is improving every day. They will be a good core group for us," said Hilbert of his new freshmen.

The Rams have always set high goals for themselves and this year will be no exception.

"Here at CSU we have certain goals that have always been here," Bauer said. "The seniors that we have played with the last few years taught us it, and Tess, Dre and I need to keep that up."

The Rams have won at least a share of the last five regular season titles in the MWC, with the first coming in 1999, the first year of the league. But this year will be tough according to Hilbert who cited some problems that must be addressed in order to succeed.

"The middle is definitely our biggest concern right now," Hilbert said. "Amanda, Mekana and Dre will probably be the people to fill that role."

Another concern for the Rams is at the setter position. With the loss of Melissa Courtney, they have big shoes to fill. Junior Katherine Whitney, who saw playing time last year at defensive specialist, will be the person to take on the role.

"Melissa was a very consistent player, Katherine will try to do some of the same things she did," Hilbert said. "Katherine is a great ball handler and will be solid for us at that position."

Taking what she learned from last year, Whitney will look to improve and contribute to the team as much as possible.

"I was a little unsure of myself last year playing at the defensive specialist position, but this year I have a lot to prove," Whitney said.

The Rams will start this season off on the road at the Pepperdine Classic September 2-3, against Cal State Northridge, Northern Iowa and Pepperdine, then travel to play Denver University before coming home. The last time the Rams started the season away from Moby Area was in 2000, when they won the NACWAA/ State Farm Classic in Florida. Their first match at home will be against UC Irvine as a part of the Hilton Classic on Sept. 9.

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