Air Force Preview

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Oct 052006
 
Authors: JEFF DILLON The Rocky Mountain Collegian

With eight newcomers on the roster, including five true freshmen, the Rams knew from the start of the season there would be some growing pains this season.

Finally, those struggles are starting to produce maturity, and that maturity is starting to produce success. A lot of success.

As the Rams prepare for their match at 6 p.m. at Air Force, they are coming off of four straight impressive victories in which they surrendered only one game to the opposition.

The Falcons (1-12, 0-5), have yet to win a match against Mountain West opponents. Their only win of the season came Sept. 1 against Norfolk State. Since then, they have lost 11 straight matches.

CSU is headed the opposite way.

After opening conference play with two consecutive losses, the Rams have catapulted themselves from second to last all the way into a tie for third place in the Mountain West standings. CSU is now 3-2 in league play and 9-6 overall.

Head Coach Tom Hilbert said he has been impressed watching this team mature a little more every day, both in practice and in matches.

“We have kids on this team who are playing with maturity far beyond their age,” he said. “They are learning to correct their errors in matches. We are fundamentally better.”

Hilbert’s players agreed with their coach’s comments. Red-shirt freshman Tessa Nelson, who has 111 blocks in 52 games, said she is more comfortable now than she was at the start of the season.

“I’m definitely feeling good,” she said. “I’ve come a long way from being so nervous that I couldn’t drink my water before our first match. ”

The statistics also show that Nelson and her teammates are maturing. Against Denver on Wednesday, the Rams held the Pioneers to a .000 hitting percentage, forcing the visitors into 27 errors.

CSU, on the other hand, hit .284 with only 13 attack errors, a huge difference from an earlier three-game sweep Aug. 26 when they hit .222 with 22 errors against Morgan State.

Against Wyoming on Sunday, the Rams’ blocking game was dominant in a four-game win. All six of CSU’s starters either tied or set career records in blocks against the Cowgirls.

The week before, the Rams found their serving game had steadily improved as well. Their win over TCU on Sept. 23 was the first time of the season the team had more serving aces than errors. CSU pulled that feat off again against Denver on Wednesday.

Simply put, this team is definitely headed in the right direction.

“We’re starting to click more as a team,” said sophomore outside hitter Jaime Strauss. “We are getting more confident in each other and what everyone is going to do.”

As the Rams head to Colorado Springs to face the Falcons, their maturity will be put to the test. Although Air Force is off to a slow start, this match could be one that sneaks up on them.

“We have to understand that we are going to have to play longer-duration matches in the future,” Hilbert said after the win over Denver. “But I think our team is much more mature than when we began.”

The Rams should be able to showcase that maturity against a struggling Falcons team. If they truly have grown up, a comfortable win shouldn’t be a problem.

Staff writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

Notes:

– Wednesday’s win over Denver was Tom Hilbert’s 250th in his CSU career.

– Sophomore setter Ashley Fornestorm was named the co-Mountain West player of the week this past week after posting a triple-double against Wyoming. Utah setter Sydney Anderson shared the honor.

– Sophomore middle blocker Mekana Barnes played almost the entire third game against Denver. She has been slowed down by an ankle injury for several weeks. Hilbert said getting Barnes healthy is a “big priority” for the team.

MWC Standings:

Conf: Overall:

1. Utah 3-0 13-2

2. BYU 4-1 13-2

3. CSU 3-2 9-6

3. UNLV 3-2 12-5

3. 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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