In a match that included long rallies, numerous lead changes and even a set that went to 31 points, the 3,252 fans at Moby Arena on Saturday enjoyed arguably the most exciting match of the season as the No. 12 Rams defeated No. 25 Arizona in four sets.
Bringing the athletic Pac-10 team to Fort Collins, which head coach Tom Hilbert thinks is underrated at No. 25, gave the Rams the opportunity to face a tough opponent out of conference as well as draw the community to Moby.
“What I wanted to accomplish with this match was two things: one, I wanted our team to play at a high level and to learn more about that and understand that. Two, I wanted to bring a great team into
Moby and entertain this community that’s been unbelievable for us. Both of those things were accomplished.”
The match was arguably the most entertaining of the year as all four sets were tightly contested, particularly the second set in which the Rams fought off six set points before dropping the set 31-29.
“All three games we won were pretty close up to about ten points and then we would go on a two or three point run, and we held their runs down, and that was critical,” said Hilbert. “We can only get better by playing teams like this. It was also a treat for our fans to see such a high-level match.”
And the fans this season have seen a number of high-level matches, including wins over North Carolina, Florida and BYU. The Rams currently rank eighth in the nation in attendance at 2,684 fans a match.
“This is, to me, one of the best environments in collegiate volleyball in the United States right now,” said Hilbert. “I just have to hand it to our community and our students for taking pride in this program and supporting us the way that they’re doing on a regular basis.”
The Rams have just been winning on a regular basis, now 10 in a row, which is the longest streak since winning 12 in a row in 2006. The win on Saturday also extends their home match wining streak to 23.
“It felt pretty good. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on playing good at home and defending our court,” said senior outside-hitter Jaime Strauss. “We always feed off the crowd.”
Strauss and sophomore Jacque Davisson led the team with 14 kills each, while senior Mekana Barnes added 11. Davisson said Arizona is tougher than any Mountain West team they’ve played this season.
“They’re better and more physical and athletic than any team in the Mountain West,” said Davisson.
Hilbert said it is matches like these that will prepare the team for MWC play later in the season.
“This was one of the fun ones,” said Hilbert. “There’s not as much risk actually in playing a non-conference game against a high-level opponent. It’s getting us ready for TCU and New Mexico and Mountain West games in which we have to win.”
The Rams play TCU in a MWC match-up on Thursday at Moby Arena, but before that they will travel to Greeley to take on the Bears of UNC Tuesday night. Both matches are set for a 7 p.m. start.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.