While some collegiate sports programs like to start their season with easier opponents in the hopes of building their players’ confidence, CSU volleyball will open its season against stiff competition.
Two of CSU’s first three opponents in the CSU Hilton Classic are NCAA tournament teams from a year ago. In fact, Texas A&M has made 13 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Head Coach Laurie Corbelli and has been picked to finish fifth in a very competitive Big 12 Conference.
“I guess (the ranking) is fair. It’s so hard to know for sure because the teams in our conference are very close in talent,” Corbelli said before the Aggies practiced at Moby Arena on Thursday. “It’s a battle every week.”
CSU is 5-1 against Texas A&M in the all-time series, but the two programs have not met since the 1996 Hilton Classic.
Sophomore middle blocker Mekana Barnes said the Rams don’t know a whole lot about Texas A&M, but they do know they need to expect a battle.
“We expect A&M to be very good,” Barnes said. “It will be good for us to have a tough test right away.”
Senior middle blocker and preseason All-Big 12 pick Christi Hahn leads the Aggies. Hahn, however, is the lone senior on a roster with eight freshmen. It will be interesting to see how soon the Aggie freshmen can fulfill the promise of being the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the country.
“They’re progressing well, but it’s hard to assess them without seeing them play yet,” Corbelli said. “From what I’ve seen, they’re wonderful and talented and they have a great attitude.”
Among the eight Texas A&M freshmen are Sarah Ammerman and Cara Quayle who played their high school volleyball in Colorado at Chaparral High School and Cherry Creek High School, respectively.
“They’re excited to see their families again and play in their home state,” Corbelli said. “We had already scheduled this tournament before we signed them. It just worked out well.”
Also returning home to Colorado is junior Esther Johnson of Morgan State, CSU’s second opponent of the tournament. Johnson went to high school in Fort Collins and was a multi-sport star at Rocky Mountain High School. Morgan State struggled much of last year, going 14-21, but Johnson was a bright spot on the team, earning All-MEAC honors.
CSU’s final opponent this weekend is another NCAA tournament team, Missouri State. The Bears went 24-9 last year, finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference before losing in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.
CSU head coach Tom Hilbert does not know the quality of either Morgan State or Missouri State, but said he is looking forward to kicking off the season.
“It’s hard to say how the competition will be, but we know we are as ready as we’re going to be,” he said. “This will allow us to see where we’re at.”
Staff writer Drew Gonzales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org