In a span of four days the CSU volleyball team will know where they stand among the nationâ€™s elite teams.
The teamâ€™s trial-by-fire stretch includes games against Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State and a showdown against Oklahoma in Norman looming.
â€œThe opening weekend will be rough,â€ said coach Tim Hilbert. â€œThough it will definitely give us an opportunity to see how well our team is clicking currently.â€
This yearâ€™s team will be without four front-line starters from last yearâ€™s team, which went 25-6 overall.
The teamâ€™s hopes to reach its 17th consecutive year in the NCAA Tournament rest on the shoulders of first -time starters.
Hilbert added that the Rams expect a tough match against Arkansas, especially being on the road.
â€œAnytime you go against something that you donâ€™t see everyday in practice is tough,â€added Hilbert. â€œTheir outside hitters have great arms and present a challenge for our team.â€
Arkansas is trying to rebound from a tough 14-17 record in 2010. Theywill have one advantage on the Rams, which is their relative anonymity.
â€œPlaying a team that we donâ€™t get to watch a lot (Arkansas) is always tough,â€ said junior Dana Cranston. â€œWe know that playing any team that weâ€™re not that familiar with will be a challenge for sure.â€
Hilbert pointed to the 2007 season, when the Rams started the season 0-3. That season CSU rallied to reach the regionals of the NCAA Tournament.
â€œOur ultimate goal is to make our players better over the entire season,â€ Hilbertsaid. â€œAs much as weâ€™d all like to win every match, that isnâ€™t likely.â€
Arkansas will be lead by junior Roslandy Acosta, who played with the Venezuelan National Team in the 2008 Olympics.
Acosta transferred to Arkansas from Cowley College in Arkansas City, Kan., and presents a formidable challenge for the Rams’ front line.
The Rams will also play a doubleheader on Saturday, facing a tandem of tough opponents in Middle Tennessee, who went 29-6 last season. The Rams faced the Raiders in 2009, with the Rams coming out on top.
â€œMiddle Tennessee is the best team in the tournament,â€ Hilbert added. â€œThey provide a scheme thatâ€™s tough to prepare for. They could quite possibly be the best team weâ€™ll face on our entire schedule.â€
The Rams’ home opener will be Tuesday, Aug. 29 against Nebraska University.
Volleyball Beat Reporter Christopher Boan can be reached at email@example.com.
What: Arkansas Invitational
Where: Fayetteville, Ark.
When: Today, 6 p.m., Saturday, Noon & 4 p.m.
Opponents: Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State and McNeese State
Last Season: UA: 14-17, MTSU: 29-6, MSU: 14-18