CSU volleyball came from behind Saturday evening in Provo, Utah and in the process claimed conference supremacy by defeating the BYU Cougars in a five-set thriller (21-25, 25-23, 20-25, 27-25, 15-12).
Saturday’s victory gives CSU (22-4, 14-1 MWC) and head coach Tom Hilbert their 7th regular season Mountain West Conference championship.
“This is a special group,” Hilbert said. “This is a season I’m going to remember for a long time.”
Hilbert has now guided the Rams to 11 MWC titles, including post-season conference tournaments. The MWC discontinued its postseason volleyball tournament following the 2007 season.
The Rams found themselves trailing two sets to one, and faced a BYU match-point in the fourth set before ultimately rallying to win.
“We knew what we wanted the outcome to be,” said sophomore outside hitter Kate Steffan. “And we fought for it.”
Outside hitter Danielle Minch led the team with 21 kills, one of five Rams recording double digit scoring nights.
“BYU stuck with us the whole time,” Minch said. “We stayed composed in our passing game at the end. I think that was the most important part of the match.”
After winning the fourth set, the Rams secured the match in set five behind junior Jacque Davisson’s timely kills.
“Jacque got two huge kills for us at the end of the fifth set to win,” Hilbert said. “She’s just money, she’s done a great job for us this year.
With just one conference loss, and having clinched the conference title, Hilbert said this group has gone above and beyond his expectations.
“We didn’t have the burden of expectation this year,” Hilbert said. “I certainly didn’t think we’d only have one loss at this stage in the season. Everything about this group just seemed to be right.”
CSU volleyball’s slogan for 2008 was the “Big Year.” Yet it is the 2009 team that will ultimately be remembered as conference champs, something the team failed to accomplish a year ago.
“It’s awesome to know that we have a team that is so good with each other,” Minch said. “We have a lot of trust in one another.”
With the conference title now secure, Hilbert hopes to rest his players in the final two weeks before the beginning of the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
“Rest is going to be critical,” Hilbert said. “Short practices and rest.”
The Rams have yet to advance past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since ’03, and have never advanced past the Sweet 16 in program history.
The Rams finish the regular season with home matches against UNLV on Nov. 21 and New Mexico State on Nov. 28. Though a conference championship is now secure, the Rams have an opportunity to win their 15th MWC match of the season should they defeat the Runnin’ Rebels on Saturday, which would mark the most conference wins in school history.
Volleyball Beat Reporter Joel Hafnor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.