Oct 032006
 
Authors: Jeff Dillon

Editor’s note: The volleyball team has reached the halfway point in its season and beat reporter Jeff Dillon wants spectators caught up on the action. To see a preview of the homecoming football game or any other athletic events happening over the weekend, check out the Collegian on Friday.

Run by practice these days, and you’re bound to see smiles from the Rams volleyball team. A lot more smiles than you would have seen about a month ago.

Winning does that to a team.

“We feel good out here,” said junior middle blocker Amanda Fahnestock after an intense practice session. “It’s great to be coming together as a team.”

After an inconsistent start to the season, the Rams have won its last three matches handily. Considering that all three were against conference opponents, each was a statement about the strides the team is making.

The team is now 8-6 overall and 3-2 in Mountain West play. That’s good for fourth best in the conference, which is a big improvement considering it was near the basement of the standings just two weeks ago.

Chock it up to a young team that is figuring out how to play together more and more every day.

The team, which has eight newcomers on the roster this year, opened the season with a 5-4 record against a tough non-conference schedule. At times, it looked good enough to compete for a conference title. Other times, it was overwhelmed by errors in disappointing losses.

It was the Rams’ first conference matches, however, that proved to be the key point in the season so far.

The Rams lost its opener at Utah in three games, but came back strong the following night against BYU, who was ranked 19th in the country at the time. CSU showed tremendous potential in a thrilling five-game loss, a match where Head Coach Tom Hilbert said the Rams “grew up.”

Since that match, CSU has swept New Mexico, TCU and Wyoming in conference matches, proving itself as, once again, a favorite in the Mountain West.

But Hilbert thinks this team has still not reached its potential.

“I think the best is still to come,” he said. “We’re doing pretty well in a lot of areas, but I still think we need to get better.”

“I’d rate us at an eight (out of ten) right now, but we need to be at a nine or a ten.”

Hilbert’s team agreed with his analysis. They said the team has to continue to work on its consistency to keep climbing up the standings.

“I’d give us a solid ‘B’ right now,” said senior outside hitter Katherine Whitney. “I think we’re at a good point in our season right now, but we can improve a lot.”

Sophomore outside hitter Jaime Strauss, who is 10th best in the conference with 174 kills this season, said the Rams have to focus on its serving game.

“We need to be able to serve better,” she said. “We can’t keep giving teams easy balls to hit. If we make it tougher for them then I think our hitting will prevail.”

Hilbert, in his 10th year at CSU, said this team is on the right track to accomplish what so many of his previous teams have.

“We need to continue to improve if we want to compete for this conference, which I still think we can,” said Hilbert. “We’ve got to keep getting better, because we have a lot of tough matches ahead of us.”

If the Rams can continue the momentum, the team should be able to challenge Utah and BYU for the conference title. Beyond that, a 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament is certainly not out of the question.

If the Rams can accomplish those goals, you can bet this team will do a lot more smiling before the season’s end.

Volleyball beat reporter Jeff Dillon can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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MWC Standings:

1. Utah 5-0 12-2

2. BYU 4-1 11-2

3. UNLV 3-2 12-5

4. CSU 3-2 8-6

5. TCU 3-2 14-4

6. Wyoming 2-2 8-6

7. New Mexico 2-3 6-10

8. SDSU 0-5 6-11

9. Air Force 0-5 1-12

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