Thirty-two teams will be eliminated tonight after the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament. The 14th-seeded CSU Rams (22-7) hope they’re not one of them, as they begin play tonight against the Illinois State Redbirds (21-11) in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Coverage during the match can be heard on FM 90.5 KCSU.
CSU is competing in its 13th consecutive NCAA tournament. The Rams volleyball team lost its last match to Utah in the Mountain West Championship tournament and will try to move forward tonight.
Rams All-Mountain West Conference outside hitter Jaime Strauss expects a strong performance.
“I think we are really excited about what is going on,” she said. “We are going to focus on it and come together and play really well.”
ISU has won 18 of 22 games in its last nine matches and finished second in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to earn a bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Redbirds are led by senior middle blocker Kari Staehlin and junior right side hitter M.C. Richmond, who earned first-team honors for the All-Missouri Valley Conference team.
Coach Tom Hilbert expects a tough battle and said that ISU plays the game very well defensively.
“They are up tempo and good defensively,” Hilbert said. “They have been through battles every match. That league has four or five really high quality teams. They are in a good conference so they are used to working.”
Hilbert’s keys to defeating the Redbirds include solid serving and passing, staying in long rallies, taking advantage of the Rams’ size through physical play and using their superior athletic ability.
He said it ultimately comes down to his players.
“There are some special elements of this team,” he said. “They are coachable, they have good volleyball IQ’s and they are kids of great character.”
If CSU does win, then they will play the winner of the Miami (Ohio)-Michigan match. They were defeated by Michigan in Hawaii, but beat Miami in Fort Collins.
Rams All-Mountain West Conference middle blocker Mekana Barnes said that CSU’s recent road experience will be a key factor in winning away from home.
“Because the last half of our season was on the road, it was enough practice for us to know how to win on the road,” she said.
Libero Katelin Batten said that team unity would be crucial to how far they go in the tournament.
“We need to play hard and together. We all need to be striving for the same goal while we are playing.”
Volleyball beat reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.