Rams face Air Force and New Mexico
By Lee Miller
This weekend could turn out to be deceptively difficult for the CSU volleyball team.
Sure the Rams will play their final home matches of the regular season. And those matches will be played against the two worst teams in the Mountain West Conference – New Mexico and Air Force.
The Rams have also had consistently good showings against these teams. They are also playing to hold onto second place and possibly reclaim the lead in the conference.
But although these factors should be advantageous to the Rams, there are reasons to play as if they were already in the tournament.
“We’ve been focusing on winning our last four matches,” senior Michelle Knox said. “Winning these matches gives us the conference lead and the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which will give us some ideal matchups. So we don’t look at these two teams with any less respect than the other teams in the conference.”
Both New Mexico and Air Force have 2-8 conference records, which puts them in the cellar. All that they really have left to look forward to this season are possible upset bids in the Mountain West Tournament, which will be held at Moby Arena Nov. 24-26.
The Rams have won their last 11 matches against the Lobos and the last 16 against the Falcons. The Rams quickly beat Air Force in a three-game sweep a month ago and followed it up with a four-game win over New Mexico. These two teams will be bringing grudges into Moby Arena and will have nothing to lose.
With only four matches remaining in the conference season for the Rams, crunch time is here and every win is do-or-die. Losing either of these matches could hurt the Rams’ momentum heading into a road trip to play Utah and BYU next weekend.
“We are working on some new things offensively that I hope will help us focus a little more this week,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “We’ve switched around a few of the libero rotations. Since Becky (Sarauer) has been playing good defense, the rotations should give her a chance to step up. The rotations should also create a little more offensive diversity.”
Hilbert didn’t exactly bring the details as to what that diversity would involve, but he hopes that it will give the Rams the extra punch they will need the next few weeks.
“All we need is to convince this team that they can still improve,” Hilbert said. “They’ve already gotten better at blocking this week in practice, and they just need to understand that they can get better between now and the Utah trip.”
New Mexico has dropped eight of its last nine. In the last match against the Rams, the Lobos hit .148 for the match and were out-killed 72-45. Tess Rogers led the Rams with 20 kills and three other Rams hit double figures in kills. New Mexico’s Vanessa Shields led the Lobos with 11 kills.
In their first match against Air Force, the Rams didn’t need much to handle the Falcons. Rogers led the team in this match with 11 kills on 13 swings. Michelle Knox had 10 kills and five blocks, and the Rams had nine service aces, with three coming from Melissa Courtney.
Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin