Dec 102002
 
Authors: Lee Miller

CSU’s volleyball still bounces on NCAA Tournament courts.

Though they lost last week, the Rams kept the streak alive, arriving at the Big Dance for the eighth consecutive season. Their dancing shoes just didn’t quite fit.

But give them a few years to grow into them and you’ll find that this team is in for a very successful future.

Consider that after Michelle Knox leaves her legacy behind, the core starters for next season will have two seasons together. After the roller coaster that was this season, these women should be able to get through absolutely anything together.

Consider that this season’s team started two freshmen in nearly every match this season. Both of these freshmen were among the leaders in the Mountain West in different categories. Both broke school and conference records for freshmen in those categories.

And one is an All-Conference player and the MWC Freshman of the Year.

Consider that this group has already won a Mountain West Conference regular season, and knows what it takes to beat the most intense rivals.

Consider that next year’s juniors will have two successful seasons as Rams under their belts. Three of them are all-conference players and they have all learned very important lessons about becoming team leaders.

Consider that head coach Tom Hilbert is one of the premier volleyball coaches in the nation. Since he arrived at CSU in 1997, his teams have won at least 20 matches every year. This season’s team is the first Ram team to lose in the first round of the Big Dance under Hilbert. He also holds the eighth-best winning percentage among active Division I volleyball coaches.

Consider that Hilbert’s teams immediately know how to win volleyball games. Just by watching how devastating an early-season loss to Nevada was to this team, you could understand the standard that these players set for themselves.

Consider that the Rams led the conference in three out of seven statistical categories this season. In three out of the remaining four the Rams placed second.

Enough with the consideration – lets reflect.

The buzz around campus at the beginning of the season was that this was to be a “rebuilding” year. If you call what the Rams did this season “rebuilding,” then I can’t wait to see what this team will be like at full strength.

The team that set the ball, so to speak, for this team went 30-4 in 2001. It sported three All-Americans and reached the Sweet 16 both seasons that the core group started.

I can see this team making it farther.

With the offensive numbers the Rams produced this season, they will be nearly unstoppable next season. Yes, Michelle Knox will be gone, but Katie Jo Shirley will be one of the more dominant middle blockers in the conference.

Those who followed the Rams closely in 2002 caught a glimpse of 6-foot-2-inch freshman Melissa Dennett. She saw playing time in 30 games this season, but played tentatively at times. After some growth, she’ll be extremely hard to hit past.

With Dennett’s playing time increased and some maturation from the players on the outside, Shirley should be able to increase her team-best 1.13 blocks per game.

The Rams’ main weakness this season was their inability to put up a consistent block. With an offense that already dominates and a defensive game that had the Rams second in the conference in digs, Hilbert and the Rams will improve that block.

Honestly, the young Rams could not have asked for a better 2002 season. But it would have been really great if they’d beaten BYU.

Lee is a graduating senior journalism major.

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