The CSU women’s volleyball team begins conference play on the road this weekend with matches against Utah and Brigham Young University in Utah.
Utah, CSU and BYU were picked by Mountain West coaches to be the top three teams in the conference.
In the last 20 seasons, the Rams are 17-3 in conference openers. The last opener loss was to Wyoming in the 1994 season.
CSU head coach Tom Hilbert said he thinks the conference will be better competition this season. Already several surprises have emerged with Air Force off to a good start and Utah barely above .500.
“It’s better (competition) than last year for sure,” Hilbert said. “Air Force has a great non-conference record so far. Utah is kind of puzzling right now. They are losing to teams they shouldn’t be losing to.”
Hilbert said he thinks the Rams are ready for conference play thanks to a harder pre-season schedule.
“That’s why we scheduled the harder pre-season-so we’d be ready,” Hilbert said.
Air Force (9-4):
Last year: 8th 8-22 (2-12 MWC)
Picked to finish eighth
After finishing last season with only eight wins, Air Force is surprising people with their play.
Sophomore Kristin Hamlett had a team best 46 kills last week and was hitting .383. Senior Delavane Diaz leads the MWC in kills per game with an even 5.0. Diaz last week recorded her 25th career double-double against Eastern Illinois. Senior setter Kristin Huitt is getting national attention. She was ranked No. 6 in the nation in assists per game and hit .429 in the win against EIU.
Last year: 4th 14-19 (7-7 MWC)
Picked to finish second
The Cougars have been playing well this year with several players putting up impressive stats. Picked to finish in third place behind the Rams and Utah, the Cougars are hoping to disprove the hypothesis.
Last year BYU won two of the three meetings, winning two matches at Moby Arena. The Rams have won three of the last four meetings in Provo and are 3-2 in the last five meetings.
On a team that is averaging 15.64 kills per game, Kim Wilson leads the Cougars with 4.05 kills. So far BYU has the best hitting percentage in the conference at .256.
New Mexico (3-10):
Last year: 7th 10-21 (3-11 MWC)
Picked to finish seventh
The Lobos have the worst record in the MWC. They have lost seven straight matches, including four at home. They have not won on the road and will open conference play in Colorado Springs at Air Force. Senior Anna Reines leads the Lobos with 3.54 kills per game. Setter Lindsay Smith is averaging 7.54 assists per game.
San Deigo State (8-5):
Last Year: 2nd 22-12 (11-3 MWC)
Picked to finish fourth
Last week the Aztecs lost to No. 21 San Diego but rebounded with a win over Harvard.
Senior Aspen McPartland is averaging 3.67 kills per game and is hitting .375 on the year. McPartland has hit over .350 with double figure kills in the Aztec’s last five games. Junior Kara Moriarty, who only played six matches last season, has started all 13 this year and is second on the team with 153 kills. Senior Melissa Cansdale and McPartland are ranked fourth and fifth in the MWC for blocks.
Last Year: 5th 11-20 (6-8 MWC)
Picked to finish fifth
The Rebels lost two matches last week to nationally ranked teams, No. 25 Loyola Marymount and No. 2 Hawai’i. Junior Tarin Keith led the Rebels with 15 kills and a .400 hitting percentage vs. LMU. Keith leads the team with five double-doubles this season. Senior Leiana Oswald is second in the MWC with 4.5 kills per game though she was held to just nine against Hawai’i.
Last year: 3rd 25-9 (10-4 MWC)
Picked to finish first
The favorite to win the league title, the Utes are 4-1 at home this season but are losing to teams such as Utah State and winning against ranked teams like No. 18 Missouri. Kim Turner, last season’s MWC Player of the Year, is leading the team in kills, hitting percentage and blocks. As a team the Utes are hitting .212 and are averaging 14.46 kills per game.
Last year: 6th 20-11 (5-9 MWC)
Picked to finish sixth
Senior Michele Rauter leads the Cowgirls averaging 4.18 kills per game and has made 21 service aces on the season. Rauter needs just 112 digs to tie for first on the Wyoming all-time list. Junior Amy Doman is hitting a team best .317 with 15 service aces. Senior Amanda Miller, who was named to last week’s all-tournament team with Rauter, has a team best 179 digs on the season, averaging 3.31 per game. Freshman Andrea Steele had a career high 16 kills and hit .652 in a win over Montana.