With the Mountain West Conference Tournament less than two weeks away, the CSU volleyball team picked a good time to regain the league lead.
Just two more matches remain in the regular season for the Rams, and they’ll head into Utah next weekend in first place. Wins against New Mexico and Air Force, coupled with UNLV upsetting San Diego State, put the Rams one game ahead in the conference.
The Rams took advantage of their final home games by beating both the Lobos and Falcons in just three games. Air Force and New Mexico keep their positions at the foot of the table with a 2-10 record apiece.
“We needed to win these two to win the Mountain West Conference outright,” Rams head coach Tom Hilbert said.
CSU has the lead but also has challenging work ahead with the toughest road trip of the conference schedule. The Rams play No. 22 Utah (9-3 in conference play), who sits behind CSU tied for second place with the Aztecs, on Friday and then take a short trip to play at BYU.
The Rams’ victory against the Lobos left room for improvement after they were out-blocked by an average of 4.5-3 for the match.
“We start doing that against BYU and we’re killed,” Hilbert said after Friday’s match.
In response to their coach’s worries, the Rams stepped up the blocking against Air Force.
“We made blocking a priority,” senior middle blocker Michelle Knox said, after she tallied her 300th career kill.
San Diego State will travel to New Mexico and Air Force to wrap up its regular season. If the Rams want to keep the lead and the precious No. 1 seed for the Mountain West Conference Tournament, they will most likely have to win-out the rest of the season.
The tournament begins Nov. 21 at Moby Arena and will be televised live regionally on Fox Sports Net. This marks the first time in the tournament’s history that the games will be televised.
“Once the game gets going (the players) forget all about the cameras,” Hilbert said. “The only time they notice them is during the national anthem when the cameras are in their faces.”
The Rams received a boost to their championship hopes when sophomore libero Lindsey Kerr returned to action Saturday night after missing Friday’s game with an illness.
“I really liked having Lindsey back in the line-up,” said sophomore outside hitter Katie Jo Shirley. “It made me feel much more comfortable.”
As well as top performances from the returning starters, the freshmen players are starting to show their value. Tess Rogers broke the Mountain West record for kills by a freshman and will be a key part of Hilbert’s tournament plans.