It’s that time of year again.
It’s time for the blood, sweat and tears of competition. It’s time for the roar of the crowd and the cheers of teammates. It’s time for battles to be fought and championships to be won.
It’s time for volleyball season.
The Rams volleyball team kicks off its 2006 campaign this weekend as host of the Hilton Classic at Moby Arena. CSU is coming off a 21-9 season and its 11th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
After three weeks of practice, the team is ready for the real thing.
“It’s exciting to finally be playing after a few weeks of practice,” said sophomore setter Ashley Fornstrom. “We’re ready to compete against some different competition.”
Head Coach Tom Hilbert agreed with Fornstrom’s sentiments, though he knows this team isn’t perfect yet.
“We’re ready to go,” he said. “The only way to answer some of the questions we have is to start playing people.”
The teams the Rams face this weekend will reveal a lot about CSU right off the bat. The first match-up is against perennial Big 12 contender, the Texas A&M Aggies, at 7 p.m. The Rams will also play Morgan State and Missouri State over the weekend.
Hilbert expects the Aggies to be a tough match-up for the Rams.
“A&M lost five of its starters from last year’s team, so they’re actually younger than us,” he said. “But they recruit so well, they will definitely be physical and competitive. I’m glad we’re playing them early on in the season.”
Fornstrom is excited to play against a team of the Aggies’ quality.
“You don’t want to start off easy and get too overconfident,” she said. “It’s better to start off against good competition.”
The Rams have four returning starters from 2005 but also eight newcomers. The team has spent the past few weeks in practice trying to work in the old with the new. This weekend will be the team’s first opportunity to find out how everything comes together.
“We definitely want to win, but we also want to start to get in a rhythm as a team,” said Mekana Barnes, one of the four returning starters. “We still have some preparation things to do but as far as competing, we’re ready to go.”
Although the competition won’t be easy this weekend, the Rams have the advantage of playing their first game at home. Sophomore outside hitter Jamie Strauss discussed the advantage of the home court and the home crowd.
“A lot of teams have no fan support,” she said. “We get great support at Moby, and the team feeds off the energy of the crowd. Some people don’t realize how much it matters.”
Hilbert agreed, saying that student attendance this weekend is crucial.
“The crowd is big for us,” he said. “I think the community support we’ve gotten over the years is part of the reason we’ve had as much success as we’ve had.”
/ The Aggies received 11 points in the USA Today/CSTV Coaches’ Top 25 poll, seven more than CSU’s four.
/ CSU is 22-7-1 all-time in season openers, 7-2 under Hilbert.
/ Freshman Katelin Batten will start at libero, making it the third straight year the Rams have started the season with a freshman at the spot.
/ Senior outside hitter Katherine Whitney is 16 digs away from 600 at CSU. She is also three kills off of 450 for her career. Mekana Barnes is 10 kills away from 250 in her career.
/ This is the Hilton Classic’s 19th year at CSU. The Rams have won the tournament 12 of 18 times, including the past two.
Three quick facts about CSU’s three opponents
Missouri State University Bears:
1. Missouri State Head Coach Melissa Stokes was an assistant under Hilbert for five years at the University of Idaho.
2. Missouri State is located in Springfield, Mo. and was known as Southwest Missouri State University until August 28, 2005.
3. Both Kathleen Turner and John Goodman attended MSU, but neither of them graduated from the school.
Morgan State University Bears:
1. Junior outside hitter Esther Johnson graduated with honors from Rocky Mountain High School.
2. Morgan State’s athletic director, Floyd Kerr, was a standout basketball player for CSU in the ’70s and was recently named to the CSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
3. The Baltimore school is home to the world-renowned Morgan State University Choir, which has sang at the White House and has made tours of South Africa.
Texas A&M Aggies:
1. The Aggies are coached by Laurie Corbelli, who won a silver medal playing for the U.S. in the ’84 Summer Olympics.
2. Texas A&M, at College Station, Texas, is home to George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
3. There were 42 former Aggies playing in the NFL in 2005, including former All-Pros Shane Lechler, Dante Hall and Aaron Glenn.