Head coach Tom Hilbert and the CSU volleyball team are used to high expectations.
They are the two-time reigning Mountain West Champions and have been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 1995.
This year the Rams are ranked 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, and were picked to finish first in the Mountain West by the leagueâ€™s coaches.
â€œIâ€™m proud that we get that attention,â€ Hilbert said. â€œBut it really means nothing. Who ranks someone higher when they lose four starters? I donâ€™t know about that.â€
Due to CSUâ€™s recent run of success, expectations are continually high both internally and from the community.
â€œThose expectations are always there regardless (of the preseason ranking),â€ Hilbert said. â€œIâ€™m sure that (the team feels) a little pressure, but they just go out and practice every day and we need to not really worry about the rankings. We need to worry about playing well and getting better and winning the Mountain West Conference because that is the goal. If we can do that weâ€™ve had a good season.â€
No Ram is under more pressure individually this season than junior middle blocker Megan Plourde. She was named the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, the fourth consecutive Ram to receive the honor.
â€œMegan has this switch that when she turns it on she can be really good,â€ Hilbert said. â€œI donâ€™t mean that in a negative way, she can be cruising along during a game and when we need her she can turn it on and play great.â€
Plourde ranked second nationally in blocks per game last season at 1.92, and set a school record with 19 blocks in the NCAA Tournament first round game against Cal State Fullerton.
â€œPersonally I really donâ€™t look at those honors as anything,â€ Plourde said. â€œI give credit to all of my teammates because they put me in position. My main goal is to keep my errors down.â€
Expectations were also high last year, but the squad that will take the floor this season is vastly different from last yearâ€™s conference champions.
â€œItâ€™s a huge change, but I feel like itâ€™s really exciting having a whole new team basically,â€ Plourde said. â€œI feel really good about our progress in the preseason.â€
CSU lost its top two outside hitters to graduation and all-conference setter Evan Sanders transferred to Washington, so the starting lineup has yet to be fully determined, which leads to a more competitive practice environment.
â€œThis is my fifth year of two-a-days, and itâ€™s a lot different than before,â€ redshirt senior Katelyn Steffan said. â€œIn the past years weâ€™ve had set positions and set hitters that have started before and now we have a lot of inexperience in different positions and a lot of players fighting for different spots.â€
Steffan has dealt with the expectations before.
â€œIt can get a couple different approaches, either confidence in some and in the others itâ€™s trying to live up to that number, that high pedestal that people put us on,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s just a matter of coming out each night and playing like weâ€™re No. 15 in the country.â€
Volleyball Beat Reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com
- National Ranking: No. 15
- MW Ranking: No. 1
- Preseason MW POY: Meagan Plourde
- Consecutive NCAA
- Tournaments Made: 16