Aug 292010
 
Authors: Matt L. Stephens

If Colorado State isn’t a volleyball school, I don’t know what is.

There’s the football team, which was definitely CSU’s school sport throughout the 1990s and is now attempting to rebuild that winning atmosphere, but hasn’t shown it’s quite there yet.

There’s basketball –– both men and women’s –– that has seen an upswing in performance under new head coaches over the past two-to-three seasons, but like football, still hasn’t reached the pinnacle either team wishes to grasp.
And then there’s volleyball.

Since 1995, the CSU volleyball team has gone to the NCAA Tournament every season. Since 1999, the Rams have won 11 Mountain West Conference championships. And since 2000, CSU has finished in the AVCA Top 25 six times, most recently in 2009 when the Rams finished ranked No. 17 after a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Now the opening weekend of the 2010 NCAA volleyball season is in the books and the Rams are once again off to a hot start, defeating Duke, which was picked with Florida State as the preseason favorites to win the ACC, 3-1 on Friday before thumping Furman 3-0 Saturday.

These two victories, which will likely jump the Rams up a spot in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll, was definitely a strong way to start a season full of high expectations. But what I see as the biggest headline from Moby Arena over the past three days wasn’t so much about what these young ladies accomplished on a certain night.

The biggest story was the fact that the Rams set a new Moby Arena volleyball attendance record during Friday’s match against Duke, packing in 6,333 fans — highlighted by a student section that would rival any university’s.

To put that number into perspective, Moby Arena had 67 fewer fans than the entire undergraduate enrollment of Duke University from the Fall 2009 semester.

However, if you were to count the members of the other CSU sports teams, both players and coaches –– these folks are generally not counted in official attendance due to the methods they enter the arena –– the unofficial attendance was higher than the Duke undergrad enrollment of 6,400.

That’s saying something.

And sure, Duke is a relatively small university, but you have to understand that this is volleyball we’re talking about … It’s not exactly a sport that gets much national TV time.

Last week in my column I talked about how, in order for CSU football to make a lasting impact and reach a level where the Rams are playing for MWC titles once again, the entire Fort Collins community has to come together and rally behind the Rams as a home field advantage has been absent from Hughes Stadium for quite a while.

Well, unlike football, volleyball has reached that point.

Granted, the students were surely enticed by the free T-shirts for the “white-out,” but never before has Moby Arena seen a crowd like that for a volleyball game –– not even for the NCAA Tournament victory against No. 6 Washington last winter or the win over No. 8 Florida in 2008.

After Friday’s victory over Duke, I asked these young women whether or not they thought CSU was a “volleyball school.”

While no one was very assertive with their answer, both setter Evan Sanders and outside hitter Jacque Davisson said they’d like to think it is.

I understand the hesitation in driving home the response, “Yes, CSU is a volleyball school,” because a lot of people would likely argue. I know I would have when I first transferred here from Arkansas –– I could have cared less about a variation of the sport that didn’t include Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh on the beach wearing bikinis.

But one trip to Moby Arena to watch this team four years ago changed my mind.
If you don’t agree, show up tomorrow when the Rocky Mountain Showdown serves things up a little early when the Rams face CU-Boulder. I guarantee it will change your mind.

Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

Follow Collegian Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens on Twitter at @mattstephens.

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