The young Rams volleyball team will face an early test this week as they are thrown onto the court against two 20-game winners from last year.
CSU will host the University Park Holiday Inn Classic this weekend at Moby Arena, where it will face No. 22 Kansas State, Western Michigan and Connecticut.
The tournament will begin on Friday night with UConn matching up against Western Michigan at 5 p.m. The Rams and the Wildcats will hit the floor at 7 p.m.
The competition continues on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. and lasting well into the night.
The Rams are looking at this tournament as a preview to how the season will go.
“Obviously we look at Kansas State as being a tough game, but we’re definitely not overlooking the other two teams,” said head coach Tom Hilbert.
Kansas State comes to Moby with a lot of similarities to the Rams.
While the Rams return two starters this season, the Wildcats come back with just three. Like the Rams, the Wildcats bring back only one senior.
K-State is also riding on a streak of six consecutive seasons of reaching the NCAA Tournament, one behind CSU. The Nebraska Cornhuskers eliminated both teams from last year’s tournament.
Also, Wildcats junior libero Laura Downey-Wallace is the younger sister of Rams assistant coach Karrie Larsen.
The Wildcats posted a record of 20-8 last season, were fifth in the Big XII and made it to the second round of the NCAA Championship Tournament.
They will rely on the leadership of senior outside hitter Jennifer Pollard and junior middle blocker Lauren Goehring to help continue the team’s successful tradition.
The Rams and the Wildcats have met six times, with the Rams leading the series 4-2.
Western Michigan has been picked to finish third in the Western Division of the Mid-American Conference. The Broncos will return four starters from their 2001 team, which finished with a 15-11 overall record. They tied for fourth in the MAC and were knocked off in the first round of the MAC Tournament by Bowling Green.
Junior Carman Malone recorded 349 kills last season and is expected to improve on those numbers this year.
Senior Ashley Ritter was named to the second team All-Mid American Conference last season with 1,040 assists and 2.42 digs per game.
The Rams have only played the Broncos once, in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament. Western Michigan won the match in three games.
Connecticut finished the 2001 season with a 21-7 record and finished fourth in the Big East Conference.
The Huskies return four starters and nine letter winners from a year ago and look to extend their streak of seasons with 20 wins or more to six. The Huskies have also competed in the Big East Tournament 20 consecutive times.
Senior outside hitter Melissa Wooley and senior middle blocker Christine Lambert both made the first team All-Big East last season.
Wooley finished the year with 385 kills and looks to push her career total over the 1,000 mark early this season.
This will be the first meeting between the Rams and the Huskies.
While the Rams’ opponents will be challenge enough, the Rams will put five freshmen in front of a Division I volleyball crowd for the first time.
“I’m very excited to get out there and represent for CSU,” said freshman middle blocker Melissa Dennett. “It will be great to have all that support from the fans.”
Hilbert says his team is ready to get into some real competition this weekend.
“We’ve done what we can in practice and it’s time to see how they play against different teams,” Hilbert said. “We have nine women that are ready to get out there and show everyone what they’ve got.”