Thereâ€™s something intriguing about this yearâ€™s CSU volleyball team.
Iâ€™ve seen the focused, determined Rams and Iâ€™ve seen the evil twin that makes simple mistakes and mental errors.
At times Iâ€™ve seen the Rams come out and look like a legitimate title contender, capable of beating the Stanfords and Penn States of the world. They get dominant play from All-Conference player Megan Plourde at the net, and outside hitter Katelyn Steffan kills the ball with such ferocity, part of me fears for my life sitting courtside as balls zip dangerously close to my head.
The white-out game against No. 6 Nebraska (at the time No. 5) was as exciting a sporting event I have ever been to. When the Rams dropped the first two sets in a landslide it appeared the young, fairly inexperienced Rams would have a tough year like some predicted before the season. Then CSU came out with determination and fought to win the match in the decisive fifth set.
CSUâ€™s talent and depth shined through to provide arguably the biggest moment in the programâ€™s history. The crowd at Moby Arena that night was electric just as they were at big-time basketball games against BYU and San Diego State the year before.
Then the evil twin showed up, unknowingly, unexpectedly to fill our minds with doubt once more about what heights this team could realistically reach.
This twisted, deceitful twin first appeared four games after beating Nebraska against Wichita State at home on Sept. 9. The Rams lost the match 3-1 to a team that, while not terrible by any stretch, was not their equal in terms of talent as then-No. 14 CSU. And then the following week the unthinkable happened as now-No. 19 CSU lost to a traditionally horrible Denver University squad 3-1. It marked the first time since becoming a Division I team that DU had beaten a ranked opponent and only the second victory against the Rams in 16 matches.
Maybe the loss to DU was a simple case of a young team failing to get over the loss to Wichita State, or just as likely the Rams overlooked a lesser opponent. Either way, I was ok with it. Things happen and sometimes they just canâ€™t be explained. It was a small hiccup in an otherwise strong start to the season.
Recent events, however, have me looking at it as more than a small metal lapse and more of a reoccurring problem. After stringing off five straight wins since the loss down in Denver, CSU dropped another match, this time to Wyoming, an opponent they have not lost to since 1997, 26 consecutive victories.
This loss concerns me more not because of who they lost to, but how. CSU had a two-set lead and needed just one more to win the match, but faltered and lost in five sets. Once again the evil twin wreaked havoc and it will likely drop us out of the Top 25.
Now in complete honesty Iâ€™m new to the sport, so Iâ€™m not going to try and spew my knowledge about strategy flaws and break down specifics on what causes these unwelcome losses because I couldnâ€™t, even if I wanted to. But I can see that there is something wrong with this team, if only occasionally. Coach Tom Hilbert has said the team needs better play from its middle blockers, and well, Iâ€™ll have to take his word for it.
Whether it comes from the middle blockers or the outside, this team needs to find a leader, someone to seize control and prevent the mental errors. Last year the Rams had Jacque Davisson and Danielle Minch to will CSU to victory, but theyâ€™re gone and now itâ€™s time for someone else to step up.
This team is at a crossroads. The Rams need to decide which team they want to be. The talented, determined and skilled group that surfaced against Nebraska, or their evil twin.
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.