With tears building up and emotions running high on Sunday, the CSU volleyball team bid farewell to three of its most accomplished players on Senior Day at Moby Arena.
Mekana Barnes, Ashley Fornstrom and Jaime Strauss played their last regular season match at Moby Arena in a win over the UNLV Rebels.
Behind their senior leadership and stifling defense, the Rams (22-3, 12-2 MWC) swept the Rebels (15-13, 8-7 MWC) in three sets for their 28th consecutive home match win. The win gives the Rams two consecutive seasons of 14-0 records at home.
“You’re comfortable at home, you’re in your element,” Barnes said. “The crowd’s on your side and all the support is for you,” said Barnes. “When I walk into Moby I just know we’re going to win.”
In the seniors’ tenure at CSU, the trio led the Rams to a 55-5 record at Moby Arena, something Strauss appreciates.
“Not everybody gets the chance to play in the environment we do,” Strauss said. “I wish we could play every game here.”
Even UNLV head coach Allison Keeley enjoys playing in Moby.
“The crowd is great. It’s so much to play here and know you’re going to compete in front of people that are volleyball knowledgeable and passionate about the game,” said the UNLV coach. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Barnes led the team with 14 kills and 10 blocks while Strauss added seven kills and Fornstrom finished with 30 assists. The trio did not let the emotions of Senior Day get in the way of the match.
“We knew it’s special, the senior night and that’s always an honor to be recognized like that, but we had work to do and we knew that and that comes before everything,” Barnes said.
The Rams took control of the match in the second set. After getting off to a slow start, trailing 9-6, the team reeled off a 12 point run and finished the set with a 19-3 run to win 25-12.
“Us going on a 12 point (run), that’s not going to happen very often with a team of that quality,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “It changed game two because they were ahead at that point. They had momentum from the end of game one and took that momentum into game two.”
The other two sets were much more tightly contested, with the Rams winning set one with a score of 27-25 and set three 25-20.
“Set one and three were the types of sets I expected in this match,” Hilbert said. “Vegas just hangs around and hangs around.”
The Rebels were able to hang around thanks to solid defensive play.
“They’re extremely good on defense,” Strauss said. “You think something is going down someone comes out of nowhere and makes a play. You think you have a stuff block, someone comes down and pops it right back up. You have to stick with them and play throughout the long rallies.”
Keeley said this is the best defensive team she has coached.
“We just have some very talented individuals in the back court,” Keeley said.
The Rams are losing three talented individuals in Barnes, Fornstrom and Strauss and Hilbert knows he cannot replace them.
“They have set a very high standard,” Hilbert said. “All three of them are hard working kids that come to practice everyday and bust their butt. They’re all three leaders, but in different style. We’ll never replace them. I don’t think you ever replace any great players. You just put new people in and build a new product.”
Strauss said she does not look at Sunday’s match as her last at Moby as CSU will host an NCAA regional on Dec. 12-13 — where the Rams hope to find themselves.
“I don’t look at it as my last home game. There’s still a lot of season left and it was just one more game to play,” Strauss said.
The Rams embark on their most important road trip of the season this week, taking on BYU and Utah with a conference title on the line. The team plays BYU on Wednesday and Utah on Saturday.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.