Moby Arena will still host an NCAA volleyball regional this weekend, but CSU will not be playing in it.
The Rams ended their season Saturday after they were swept by the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
CSU finished with a 23-7 record, its 14th consecutive season of compiling at least 20 wins, though this season was supposed to be special, being dubbed the “Big Year” with hopes of advancing further in the NCAA tournament.
“It takes a lot of courage to set some of the goals we set. Those are the risks we have to take,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “We’ll always look at the positives, and this was successful season. I have no regrets.”
The loss marks the end of seniors Mekana Barnes, Jaime Strauss and Ashley Fornstrom’s careers at CSU. The trio made four trips to the NCAA tournament together, while compiling an 87-34 record.
“It was a great journey for these seniors,” said Hilbert.
Each of the seniors are products of Colorado, coming to CSU from within 75 miles of Fort Collins. Hilbert directed his post-match speech at the trio, telling them to appreciate their time at CSU.
“I told my team that not very many schools get into the NCAA tournament and this is our 14th year in a row and after this sinks in to sit back and appreciate this run,” he said.
It was the second straight season the Rams lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The team fell to Michigan last season.
No. 15 seeded Florida meanwhile moves on to play at Moby on Friday in the Sweet 16. The Gators will play No. 2 seeded Stanford, which swept Long Beach State in the second round. Also advancing to Ft. Collins are No. 7 seeded Hawaii and No. 10 seeded Purdue.
Even though his team is not participating, Hilbert is excited to host the regional in Moby where he said the community has made its presence known all season.
“We’re still hosting the regional and we’ll do a good job,” said Hilbert.
After defeating Florida in September, CSU had their chances to pull the upset again in Gainesville on Saturday, but mistakes at critical times killed the Rams.
In the first and third set particularly the Rams were in position late to win the set, but Florida closed out each set with more poise.
“We were neck and neck in game one and they were making no mistakes,” said Hilbert. “In game three they faltered a little bit and we were in position to win. Florida played a great match, but this is disappointing.”
In set three the Rams were up 15-12, but the Gators re-took the lead at 22-21 with a block on a Jacque Davisson attack. A block by Barnes put the Rams up 23-22 late in the set. The Gators then scored the final three points, with match point coming on a Barnes attacking error.
“We were playing well in set three, but couldn’t score at critical times,” said Hilbert. “We were in position to win and missed seven serves.”
The team only hit .205 while recording 12 service errors and tallying only five blocks. The Gators blocked the Rams nine times. Barnes led the team with 10 kills on .350 hitting, while Strauss chipped in with nine kills and 10 digs.
No. 12 seeded and MWC champion Utah advanced to the round of 16, playing in the Washington regional. The Utes will play regional host University of Washington, No. 5 seeded, on Friday.
The Ft. Collins regional matches are set to be played on Friday and Saturday. Two matches will be played Friday night, with the regional championship match scheduled for Saturday.
The winner from the Ft. Collins regional will travel to Omaha, Neb. for the Final Four.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.