The CSU volleyball team fought through adversity and avoided an upset over the weekend to win all three matches of the Hilton Classic.
Junior middle blocker Makena Barnes was named tournament MVP, leading her team to a second straight undefeated tournament at Moby Arena.
After three consecutive losses to begin the season, the Rams (5-3) have now won five in a row. With recent wins over Miami (Ohio) and Winthrop, coach Tom Hilbert is pleased with the character of his team as it gets set for the start of conference play on Wednesday.
“I’m really proud that we’re competing when we need to and we’re showing a lot of resiliency,” he said. “We’re showing some toughness. I think we’ve got great leadership when we do have those down moments.”
On Friday night, CSU beat the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks in a five-game thriller (30-16, 28-30, 28-30, 31-29, 15-10). The RedHawks surprised the Rams after CSU dominated game 1. Miami played much better throughout the rest of the match, winning the next two games, 30-28.
The Rams never lost hope, though.
“You never think you’re going to lose a match,” said setter Ashley Fornstrom. “Knowing that we’ve put ourselves in that situation before, as long as we fight hard, we’ve got a chance.”
Game 4 was a hard fought nail-biter due to Miami’s stout defensive play. Hilbert called Miami the best defensive team CSU has played all year.
“They’re senior-laden and they run two different types of defenses,” he said. “They were just digging the balls and wearing us down in game 4 and then Jaime finished it with a crushing cross court spike.”
Strauss’s kill to end game 4 gave the Rams the needed momentum to cruise to a 15-10 victory in game 5.
“I was really excited,” Strauss said. “I was hoping our momentum from the fourth game would carry over into the fifth game.”
Mekana Barnes led CSU with 20 kills, a .500 hitting percentage and five blocks on the night.
On Saturday night, the Rams defeated the Winthrop Eagles (30-23, 28-30, 30-19, 30-18) to win the Classic outright. After a frustrating loss in game 2, Hilbert was happy with the Rams improved play in the third and fourth games.
“We were able to attack the right side of the net, which is where we needed to attack,” he said. “We just were much more efficient on capitalizing on equal point opportunities. We really played two great games in a row.”
Middle blocker Tessa Nelson and Barnes led the Rams with 15 kills and eight blocks a piece. Strauss also played a great match with 14 kills and 16 digs.
Along with Barnes, right side hitter Tonay Mokelki and Fornstrom were named to the all-tournament team.
“I think the tournament really taught us more about competing in close games,” right side hitter Tonya Mokelki said. “To come out and win in a long five game match was a big stepping stone for us.”
“I think we learned what we can do when we’re struggling and that we don’t have to keep struggling,” Barnes said. “We know what to do to pull ourselves out.”
The Rams begin Mountain West play 7 p.m. Tuesday when they host Texas Christian University at Moby Arena.
Volleyball beat reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Player of the Game on Friday vs. Miami (Ohio)
.500 hitting percentage
2 serving aces
Player of the Game on Saturday vs. Winthrop
.500 hitting percentage