Not only are they beginning their season with a chance to knock off one of the top teams in the country, but they are playing them in a tropical paradise.
The CSU volleyball team left for the Asics Challenge in Honolulu, Hawaii, Wednesday at six in the morning.
The ladies will open the tournament tonight against Oregon State. On Saturday, the team faces what is expected to be their toughest challenge of the tournament in 10th-ranked Hawaii, a team that has consistently been at the top of the college volleyball world.
The Rams close out the three-day event against 34th-ranked Michigan.
Head coach Tom Hilbert is looking forward to the chance to compete against some new faces and expects it to give him a good idea of where his team stands.
“Without playing people, we don’t really know,” he said. “We have been competing against ourselves this entire time and we need to know the level of athleticism that we are going to be playing at, as well as a lot of other things. This will be a good test.”
Mekana Barnes, a junior middle blocker, agreed with Hilbert, explaining that she is ready for some new competition.
“I think we feel comfortable in what we are doing not playing any other competition,” she said. “It’s not that you can’t still improve in practice, it is just nice to play some different teams so that we can see what we are doing well and what we need to improve on.”
Although the other games are just as important, Hilbert is looking forward to the team’s chance to prove themselves against powerhouse Hawaii. The Rainbow Wahine bring an experienced team to the court, lead by All-American hopeful Juliana Sanders.
“You have to look at it as an opportunity,” Hilbert said. “That is the only way to look at it. We get to play one of the best teams in the country in one of the best volleyball environments in the nation.”
Hawaii is coming off a strong season in which it recorded a 29-6 record and made it to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament.
Junior Ashley Fornstorm says the reputation of their opponents is not what she is focusing on.
“It is going to be a challenge, but it’s not the first thing on our minds,” the setter said. “The first thing is going out and competing and putting what we have been working on these past few weeks together.”
Volleyball beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oregon State Beavers
’06 record: 3-24
’07 rank: n/a
Key Player: Rachel Rourke: The 6-foot-5 sophomore from Australia set an Oregon State record for kills as a freshman with 387 a year ago. Rourke also led the Beavers with 27 service aces.
Hawaii Rainbow Wahine
’06 record: 29-6
’07 CSTV/AVCA rank: 10th
Key Player: Jamie Houston: The 6-foot-1 junior from Ohio was named the WAC Preseason Player of the Year. Houston also posted 13 double-doubles and 15 20-plus kill matches a year ago.
’06 record: 21-13
’07 CSTV/AVCA rank: 35th
Key Player: Katie Bruzdzinski: The 6-foot senior from Illinois became the fastest player in team history to record 1,000 kills. Bruzdzinski was also picked for the preseason All-Big Ten team.