What a difference a week makes.
After dropping two of its three matches in the Hilton Classic over the last weekend of August, the Rams won all three of their matches last weekend in the Coors Invitational at Moby Arena. The Rams did not drop a game against any of its three opponents, winning all nine.
The weekend culminated in a 30-16, 30-14, 30-20 victory over James Madison on Saturday night. The visitors were held to a hitting percentage of .000, meaning the Dukes had the same amount of errors as kills, while the Rams dominated in just about every facet of the match.
“Last week we were nervous,” said sophomore outside hitter Jaime Strauss, who had 11 kills against JMU. “We definitely showed ourselves better tonight.”
The Rams seemed vastly improved from the Hilton Classic, bringing their overall record to 4-2 on the season heading into the first road contests. It was apparent the Rams were playing with more aggressiveness, although Head Coach Tom Hilbert said he thought that was the result of a more relaxed team.
“They responded to me by playing more comfortable and smarter,” Hilbert said. “They played more aggressive because of that.”
It also looked like the Rams were having more fun. Strauss said the team was able to play more like themselves.
“It feels a lot better this way,” she said. “It’s so much more enjoyable when you’re making the plays you want to.”
Junior right side hitter Tonya Mokelki agreed, crediting the work put in at practice all week for the better product on Friday and Saturday.
“All week in practice we worked hard,” she said. “We definitely ran a little bit, too. But it paid off.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Rams took out Florida Atlantic in three games, 30-17, 30-25, 30-23. Tessa Nelson had 15 kills for the Rams, while Amanda Fahnestock had six blocks. Florida Atlantic was scrappy, but CSU held off their advances.
“We really started to settle into our roles,” said Strauss. “We’re starting to feel more comfortable as a team.”
The Rams set the weekend off on the right note by defeating Wake Forest on Friday 30-17, 30-27, 30-25. Strauss was dominant in this performance, having a career-best hitting percentage of .391. But she gave the credit to tournament MVP Ashley Fornstrom, who had 37 assists against Wake Forest and 44 against James Madison.
“Ashley’s setting locations were a lot better, and that helps us all out a lot,” Strauss said.
Her coach agreed, crediting the sophomore setter with helping the team find its rhythm.
“She set very well for us,” he said. “I’ve been bragging about what a good ball-handling team we are, and I think we finally showed some of that.”
Fornstrom was just happy that the team had a successful tournament, saying the three wins “helps a lot going into this road trip.”
And what a road trip it is, with the Rams having to face three NCAA tournament teams from a year ago: California, Pepperdine and American in the Golden Bear Invitational at California. The tournament runs Sept. 8 and 9.
After that, it’s time for conference play against Utah and BYU, making the success at Moby this weekend all the more critical.
“We played solid enough to get wins, but I think we’re better than this,” Hilbert said. “You can’t expect a team with this many sophomores to do everything right. We’re going to invest in this team and they’re going to mature.”
Staff writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at email@example.com.
? Ashley Fornstrom’s knee injury from a week ago appeared to not bother her all weekend. Mekana Barnes did rest during Saturday’s first match due to minor soreness.
? CSU hit over .300 for the weekend and held their opponents to impressively low percentages. Wake Forest was held to .045 on Friday, Florida Atlantic hit .122 and James Madison hit .000 on Saturday.
? CSU used 11 different players in Saturday night’s win over James Madison. The Rams have 13 on their roster.
? The Rams currently have the fourth best overall record in the Mountain West Conference, behind BYU (5-0), TCU (7-1), and Wyoming (5-1). None of the nine MWC teams have played a conference match yet.
Coors Invitational All-Tournament team
CSU Ashley Fornstrom (MVP)
CSU Jaime Strauss
CSU Katherine Whitney
JMU Jena Pierson
FAU Iana Andonova
Wake Jessica Furlong