This weekend was dubbed the “Big Weekend” on the CSU volleyball team’s schedule; big because the Rams would take on the No. 8 team in the country, the Florida Gators of the SEC. Now fans can look back at this weekend and realize how good this CSU volleyball team is, as the Rams swept the Gators 3-0 on Saturday night in front of more than 4,000 exuberant fans in Moby Arena.
Head Coach Tom Hilbert knows just how big this win was for the CSU volleyball program and its players.
“This win tonight (was big) because it’s at home and because of the crowd is more of a defining moment for these guys,” said Hilbert. “When you play college sports you don’t get that many of these opportunities to be nationally ranked and play another nationally ranked opponent in front of a huge crowd. I’m glad that these players could get that experience and get that moment because it will never go away.”
The Rams, behind an excited and enthusiastic crowd, jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first set of the match, forcing the Gators to take an early time-out. Florida would crawl back into the set however, tying it up at 20. The rest of the set saw the teams go point for point until CSU prevailed on an attack error by Florida to win 26-24.
“We pulled it out with some great competitiveness at the end of the game, which seems to be a signature of us,” said Hilbert.
Redshirt freshman Katelyn Steffan came out strong in the first set, recording six kills and two serving aces.
“Kate Steffan I thought she had the best game of her career,” said Hilbert. “When she was in tough situations I thought she took care of the ball and she got big kills for us.”
“We came out as a team with lots of energy and the attitude that we have nothing to lose,” said Steffan.
The Rams never looked back, winning the next two sets by scores of 25-16 and 25-14. Hilbert said he did not have to do much coaching on Saturday, instead just letting the team make its own decisions.
“We just took off and our serving and blocking took over and my team played great -they just played great,” said Hilbert. “I was sitting there literally doing nothing, watching this unfold. Our players were making good choices and being very consistent.”
It was a well-balanced attack for the Rams as Steffan led the team with 11 kills, followed by senior Jaime Strauss with 10 and sophomore Jacque Davisson recording eight. Senior setter Ashley Fornstrom led the team with 30 assists.
Coming into the game coach Hilbert knew that if his team could get past the Gator block it was going to score.
“One of the things we knew about Florida is yes they are physical, but they’re not a great defensive team because they’re so young,” said Hilbert. “We felt like if we can get the ball by the block we’re going to get kills.”
The Ram’s attacking, as well as the block, controlled the game. CSU finished with 12 total blocks compared to only two by the Gators.
“Blocking changes people’s games. When they get blocked it changes the way they think, the way they approach. It changes everything,” said Hilbert.
Senior middle-blocker Mekana Barnes said the large crowd really helped the team’s performance.
“This was the largest, loudest crowd I think I’ve seen,” said Barnes. “It was high energy and my teammates were on their job and doing the right thing and the crowd added energy. It was fun to be out there.”
Coach Hilbert agreed.
“Absolutely felt that energy. It was as good a crowd we’ve ever had; not just the size, but they were into it and felt like they were part of the match,” said Hilbert.
“The Big Weekend” is over, but the home crowd will have three more opportunities this week to cheer on the 8-1 Rams who head into conference play with matches against Utah, BYU, and Wyoming. CSU will look to continue its now 19-home match winning streak.
arnes says this win will set the tone for the rest of the season.
“For this season this win was huge. It will stick with us,” said Barnes. “Teams are going to have to respect who we are and know that we’re a good team. It will put pressure on whoever our opponents are.”
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.