Injuries hit CSU volleyball harder than any opponent did this weekend.
Without its starting setter or only senior, the Rams were left with seven eligible players – three sophomores and four freshmen – to fill rotations in the final match of the Coors Volleyball Classic.
With such a young team on the floor without key members available, the results of the weekend were almost to be expected.
The Rams were swept by both tournament-champion Cincinnati and runners-up Nevada. Against Gonzaga, a team nearly as young and inexperienced as CSU, the Rams hung on for dear life, winning the match in three tight games by a combined seven points.
To say the least, it was not the Rams’ weekend for good fortune.
“I’ve been coaching for 18 years now and I’ve never seen a situation like we’re in,” said a weary Tom Hilbert following the Rams’ loss to Cincinnati.
That situation began on Friday night against Nevada. Starting setter Melissa Courtney played despite being in obvious pain and was unable to set with the accuracy she’s displayed for most of the season. The Rams lost that match in three games.
Hilbert and the Rams’ coaches decided to rest Courtney on Saturday. With their only setter out of action, CSU used two freshmen outside hitters – Andreya Downs and Tess Rogers – at setter against Gonzaga and Cincinnati.
The Rams, not surprisingly, looked out of sync for most of their action and were never able to establish an offensive rhythm.
Considering their lack of experience, both Downs and Rogers performed respectably for the Rams. In addition to tallying a combined 72 assists, the pair accounted for 40 kills on Saturday and were the only two Rams in double figures in kills against Cincinnati.
“If I’d have told Dre Downs back in the summer that she’d be setting in a Division I match in September, she would have laughed at me,” Hilbert said. “Tess Rogers had never set before tonight. She was just a warrior for us.”
After getting by Gonzaga in unimpressive fashion, it seemed the Rams’ situation couldn’t get any worse against Cincinnati. It did.
The Rams’ lone senior, middle blocker Michelle Knox, sprained her ankle in the second game and would not return. CSU required an “abnormal substitution” granted by referee Bill Peer to get freshman Melissa Dennett into the game. Hilbert’s only other option would have been to play freshman Gwen Davis, who has yet to see action this year and whom Hilbert intends to redshirt.
“It was bad when we realized Michelle wasn’t going to be out there with us, but I was glad we at least had enough players to keep playing,” said Katie Jo Shirley, the Rams’ sophomore middle blocker. “I wanted to keep playing. I didn’t want to give up.”
Hilbert said Courtney was battling bursitis in her back and was unsure when she would return. Knox could barely put pressure on her ankle when she had to be carried off the court.
Though the Rams may be without the pair for an indefinite amount of time, Hilbert said the Rams would continue to learn on the fly.
“Getting to practice in our situation will help us quite a bit,” Hilbert said. “I’m proud of this team for how they played under the circumstances. Priority one is getting people healthy.”