Controlling its own destiny for a Mountain West Conference title, the CSU volleyball team won the first of four must-win games with a 3-0 sweep over a young San Diego State team Thursday night at Moby Arena.
Not looking ahead to its big weekend at BYU and Utah, the Rams easily swept the Aztecs (25-18, 25-18, 25-17) and have themselves pointed in the right direction after their loss at TCU.
“We had talked about this match, and in order to win the conference, every game is as important as the next,” said junior middle blocker Tessa Nelson. “The Utah, BYU weekend is big, but we got to be prepared for every team we play in our conference. I think this was a step. It was a win, so we’re going to learn from it and hopefully be more prepared next time we play.”
Head coach Tom Hilbert rated his team’s performance as “good,” but also admitted SDSU is a team CSU should always beat.
“That’s a team that we should beat,” Hilbert. “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but they’re a young team, we’re not. We should be beating them.”
Freshman outside hitter Katelyn Steffan played perhaps her best game in weeks, as she led the team with nine kills, hitting at a .571 clip.
“It felt good to finally have a good game again,” said Steffan, who has been battling knee problems the past few weeks. “I felt on, and they were leaving more of the court open for me.”
Senior All-American Mekana Barnes finished with eight kills and five blocks, while Nelson finished with seven kills and four blocks. Five of Nelson’s kills came in the final two sets.
“I think Tessa played great too, especially at the end of the match,” Hilbert said.
The team recorded nine blocks and held the Aztecs to a -.02 hitting percentage.
“We’ve been working a lot on that (the block) this week,” Nelson said, “trying to stay low on the net instead of high because, especially against a team like this, they want to tool off our hand a lot.”
Hilbert was impressed with the team’s block and overall performance, but was worried about the team’s energy level at times.
“I felt like our team needed to play with a little more energy tonight. They won, they took care of business, but we’re going to need a better performance than that Sunday. We’re going to need a better performance next weekend,” Hilbert said. “Hopefully we’ll do it.”
On Sunday, CSU wraps up its regular season home schedule with a match against UNLV, to whom the Rams lost in Las Vegas earlier this season. It will be Senior Day as Barnes, Fornstrom and outside hitter Jaime Strauss will play their last regular season matches at Moby.
Nelson is not yet ready to say goodbye to the players she has spent the past three seasons playing with.
“I’m already dreading it,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be really hard. Playing with them, I don’t know what it will be like without them. Hopefully we’re just going to keep winning and we don’t have to think about that for another three weeks.”
Fornstrom does not know how she is going to react.
“Playing in Moby in my opinion is the best place to play in the country,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like but it’s not going to be pretty. The ugly cry is going to come out.”
The UNLV Rebels come in with a 15-11, 8-5 record after defeating Wyoming in five sets on Thursday. First serve is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. and the Rams will try to extend their home winning streak to 28 matches.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.