The hard part is accepting the fact that it gets tougher.
In less then a month, a young CSU volleyball team played 15 matches. That’s 51 games in 30 days, two ranked opponents, four tournaments and two road trips to schools on opposite sides of the country.
To seasoned collegiate volleyball players, this is just a normal beginning to a routine volleyball season.
To a team that has been starting three freshmen and two sophomores who have never started on a team of this caliber, it might be described as a baptism by fire.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, which was expected,” senior Michelle Knox said. “But I think that from each match we’ve played in, win or lose, we’ve taken something that we can use to help us in the future.”
The Rams began the season by winning the University Park Holiday Inn Classic. In the process they beat then-No. 22 Kansas State in an intense five-game match. The win showed everyone that the Rams, despite their youth, deserved to be ranked in the top 25, and would still be a force in the Mountain West Conference.
CSU then suffered its first loss of the season the next Thursday against No. 5 Long Beach State. They were outmatched and more inexperienced, but the Rams were able to take the 49ers to four games.
The team followed that match up with a solid win at home over Wyoming, and a disappointing four-game loss to Colorado the following Tuesday. Up to that point the Rams had played six matches in 12 days.
The Rams traveled to Arkansas the next week and came back with two wins in a four-team tournament. During the trip they made solid improvement on the serving and passing games that had given them problems in previous losses.
The next week would test the Rams’ ability to deal with adverse situations. After a frustrating loss to Nevada in the first round of the Coors Classic, the team lost Knox and sophomore setter Melissa Courtney to injury, and the Rams limped out of the tournament with one win and uncertainty as to whether they would have their players back for the next round of matches.
“We went through an experience that was difficult, but in the long run will help us,” said coach Tom Hilbert following the tournament. “(It) made our players dig deep and play resourcefully.”
The Rams bounced back last week, getting great performances from a healthy lineup. They took two games in San Diego and placed second in the tournament.
With half of the regular season completed, the Rams now focus on their conference schedule, which stands to test them even further.
“The first half of the season was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” freshman Andreya Downs said. “But I’m glad it was because it has helped us come together and play better as a team.”
The conference schedule will be a little more forgiving in that the Rams will be playing no more than two matches a week. The next 15 matches will be played over the course of a month and a half.
However, the games will mean more, and expectations will be high.
“We definitely know there’s more at stake,” Knox said. “That has probably caused a little more anxiety for us going into this weekend.”
– Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin