With a first-year football coach, a second-year men’s basketball coach and first-year women’s hoops coach, it’s clear the Athletics Department at CSU is in a state of transition right now.
Heck, even the ground surrounding the McGraw Athletic Center and Moby Arena is torn up and in the process of rebuilding.
But among the influx of new coaches and disappointing seasons are Tom Hilbert and the Ram volleyball team.
With 14 straight appearances in NCAA tournament, CSU volleyball is the epitome of a consistently successful program.
So before their season began earlier this semester, expectations were sky high. The roster was loaded with talent that included a trio of terrific seniors, including one, Mekana Barnes, who was the reigning conference player of the year.
In May, Moby Arena- where the Rams have become allergic to losing- was selected as a site for the NCAA regionals- giving Hilbert’s team a realistic chance to make an unprecedented run to volleyball’s version of the Final Four.
As the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams continued to rebuild, volleyball prepped for a season primed for success.
Schedules and posters promoting Barnes and her teammates were plastered all over the city proclaiming, “The BIG YEAR is here.”
A sweep over then-eighth-ranked Florida in mid-September initially justified all the hype. And midway through the season, everything was going according to plan. The Rams won 16 of their first 17 matches and were ranked as high as 12th in the nation.
But as every fifth- or sixth-year senior can attest to, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes you switch majors.
In the case of this year’s Rams, sometimes you end up playing your worst when it matters the most.
What once appeared a formality, CSU failed to defend its Mountain West title as it struggled down the stretch and lost three straight to end the regular season.
The poor finish equated to a tough draw in the NCAAs, as the Rams were sent all the way across country to Gainesville, Fla. for the first two rounds.
They were able to get past the first round without much trouble, dismissing Florida International 3-1 on Friday.
But because of an unfortunate mixture of revenge and home court advantage, the Rams were swept Saturday by Florida on its home court. Not only did the Gators exact revenge for their earlier loss, but more importantly they stole the Rams’ spot at next weekend’s regional at Moby.
So the season that began with big expectations and big results ends in equally sized disappointment.
The show will go on as planned, but the Rams will be unmistakably missing. They’ll host the party, but they’re not invited.
“Florida played a great match, but this is disappointing,” Hilbert told the Collegian.
Disappointing, yes. But unsuccessful? Not for this coach. Not for this program.
“We always look at the positives, and this was a successful season,” Hilbert said. “I have no regrets.”
As for next weekend, “We’re still hosting the regional, and we’ll do a good job.”
There’s no reason to believe why Hilbert and his program wouldn’t do a “good job” in hosting the three matches.
But considering the Rams’ dominance at home the past two years, it’s nearly impossible to think how they would do a great job playing in them.
However, for a program that never rebuilds, but instead reloads, there’s always reason to be excited for next year.
Sports columnist Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.