Since the formation of the Mountain West Conference, no team has won both the volleyball conference season and the championship tournament.
The CSU volleyball team entered the 2002 tournament last weekend determined to become the first team to reach the elusive title, but was thwarted for the second time, this one being at home by the BYU Cougars in the semifinal round.
The Rams jumped out to a 2-1 match lead after winning the third game, 31-29. But the Cougars responded by putting up a wall of blocks that shut down the Rams’ offensive attack in the final two games. The Cougars would go on to win the match 30-23, 26-30, 29-31, 30-19, 15-11.
“We could not find a way to get by the block tonight,” said CSU head coach Tom Hilbert. “It completely disrupted us all night. It was like we were hitting in a closet. When you look at the stats, we were very fortunate to go five games.”
The Rams were only able to get three blocks of their own on the night. Their net game was severely disabled when middle blocker Katie Jo Shirley injured her shoulder early in the second game. She would return to the match, but was restricted to the back row, where the conference leader in hitting percentage was held to five kills and one block assist.
CSU’s best play came in the second game, when it out-hit BYU .325-.323. The Rams got an offensive spark from setter Melissa Courtney, who put up a career-high 10 kills in the match. Courtney also had 47 assists to earn a double-double and led the team with three service aces.
“I knew I was going to have to make some plays coming in because of what (BYU’s Karina) Puikkonen had done to us in the last match,” Courtney said.
Puikkonen had burned the Rams in the October match at Moby Arena with her dump plays. She gave the Rams fits once again in this match with a team-high 11 kills, 36 assists and 10 digs to complete a triple-double.
The Cougars held the Rams to a minus-.043 hitting percentage in game four and took back the momentum. The Rams would fight the Cougars to an 11-11 tie in the fifth game before BYU scored the final four points to close out the match.
“When we got to the fifth game I was confident we would win because we’re the best five-game team in the conference,” said BYU coach Karen Lamb. “I’m really pleased for our team because we’ve come through a lot of adversity this season.”
The Cougars would go on to lose the in the championship round to Utah, which captured its second consecutive tournament title.
The Rams finished up their regular season with a three-game sweep over Denver University 30-20, 35-33, 30-24. Senior Michelle Knox put up 18 kills and hit .467 in her final match at Moby Arena.