The CSU Rams volleyball players have said this year that “anybody can beat anybody else in the conference.” Unfortunately, their words proved to be true on Thursday night in Fort Worth, Texas.
The 17th-ranked Rams (20-6, 12-3) lost 3-2 in a five-game heartbreaker against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (30-22, 22-30, 30-22, 28-30, 16-18).
Ram stars Jaime Strauss and Mekana Barnes had statistically huge matches. Strauss had 28 kills, 16 digs and 7 blocks, and Barnes had 20 kills and seven digs.
But it wasn’t enough to withstand the determined comeback by the Horned Frogs on their Senior Night, as they fought back to win after being down 2-1.
TCU was led by LeMeita Smith, who finished with 17 kills, four digs and four blocks.
The loss puts the Rams in second place behind the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (21-3, 12-2) in the Mountain West standings with CSU’s final regular season match at New Mexico on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, UNLV closes out its regular season play with matches tonight at Utah and Saturday at BYU.
While others will be enjoying time off and turkey day with their families, the Rams will be competing for the MWC tournament title in Las Vegas. The tournament begins Wednesday and goes through Saturday of next week.
Coach Tom Hilbert said winning that title is most important to the team.
“Winning the title means more than anything in the tournament to us as a team,” Hilbert said. “We want to win the regular season championship and then the (NCAA) tournament will be a separate entity.”
One advantage of winning the MWC regular season title is that the Rams would be on the opposite side of the bracket as UNLV. However, Hilbert said that seeding isn’t that imperative.
“We’re not really thinking about it in terms of seed,” Hilbert said. “Yeah you would like to be on the opposite side of UNLV in a tournament, but we’re not playing for that. We want to win the Mountain West Championship so that we can say we are the conference champions.”
Along with UNLV and TCU, the Rams will have to compete against the tough competition of BYU (18-6, 10-4) and Utah (11-14, 7-7). Utah, along with UNLV, was the only other conference team to beat the Rams this season.
CSU will have all that it can handle in MWC, but the Rams seemed determined to take it. Sophomore middle blocker Tessa Nelson said it’s everything to her.
“It means a lot,” she said. “It’s everything we worked for all season. I think it’s really important and that’s what all of our focus is on right now.”
Volleyball beat reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org