The margin for error atop the Mountain West Conference is very small. This fact was demonstrated to the CSU volleyball team this weekend after it went 1-1 on its road trip to Las Vegas and San Diego.
The Rams were able to fend off the Rebels on Friday in a match where their service game was at its best. They went into San Diego State’s Peterson Gym on Saturday defending a half-match lead over the Aztecs. The Aztecs quickly turned the tables, winning the match in straight sets.
The race for No. 1 in the conference now involves three teams all within one match of each other. San Diego State holds the slippery lead at 9-2, while CSU sits at 8-2. Utah is right on the Rams’ tail at 8-3.
The weekend started out well for the Rams in Las Vegas, as they fought back from a one game deficit to beat UNLV in four games (29-31, 37-35, 30-26, 30-12).
The first two games were extremely competitive with the teams tying 13 times in the first game and 19 times in the second. The Rams lost the first game after getting blocked on three of the last four points, giving UNLV nine blocks for the game.
“In game one, when a team blocks you nine times its hard to win,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “They (UNLV) did a great job on our outside hitters.”
The teams played an even game in the second with CSU’s Andreya Downs capping off her game-high six kills with the winner.
The Rams would trail by as many as seven points in the third game before putting together an eight-point run to take a 25-23 lead. The service game played a big part in getting the win for the Rams, as they had four aces in the last 10 points.
The Rams never trailed in the fourth game and were able to comfortably close out the match.
The Rams had a season high 15 aces, good enough for fourth place in school history. Downs was deadly with her jump serve, tallying a career-high eight aces in the match. Downs also had 15 kills to follow opposite side hitter Tess Rogers, who had 16.
“Our outside hitters started doing a better job of hitting inside the block,” Hilbert said. “We served the ball really well. They out-blocked us but we were able to stay in the game because of our serving.”
The Rams completed the season sweep over the Rebels for the third consecutive season, and pushed their advantage in the all-time series to 14-2.
“This was a good match for a team to refocus and get their act together and figure some things out – which allowed us to finish really strong,” Hilbert said.
San Diego State exacted their revenge on the Rams for a five-game loss earlier this season in dominating fashion. Last time, after falling into a two-game hole, the Rams charged back to win the match. This time there was little charging and the Rams fell 20-30, 25-30, 27-30.
The Rams led the first game for a short time before the Aztecs jumped ahead and never looked back.
The second game was more competitive, with the teams tying 12 times before the Aztecs took off on a 7-1 run to take a 25-19 lead. The Rams lost the blocking game severely, as they were not able to stop the Rebel attack.
Hoping to regain the spirit of the first match against the Aztecs, the Rams stayed close in the third game, but were never able to get a lead. The Aztecs closed out the match on a Rochelle Currier kill, and secured the MWC lead.
“We did nothing to disrupt them tonight,” Hilbert said. “We were OK hitting after game one, but we couldn’t stop anything they did all night.”
Katie Jo Shirley had 12 kills for the Rams, and Knox hit .304. The Aztecs shut down CSU’s outside attack, holding Tess Rogers and Downs below double-figures. Downs added three aces to her conference-leading total.
The Rams only mustered two blocks on the evening, which demonstrated their difficulty stopping San Diego State’s attack.
“SDSU is better in every facet of the game than we are right now,” Hilbert said. “In my book they are the best team in the conference.”
Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin