This weekend, CSU volleyball will try to do something it hasn’t needed to do in almost nine weeks – bounce back from a loss.
After rattling off 12 straight victories, the Rams dropped a match last Sunday at Nevada-Las Vegas in a five-game battle.
That loss eliminated the Rams from contention for a regular season Mountain West Conference title. Utah, who comes to town on Saturday, has claimed that honor.
But don’t expect that to change the Rams’ determined outlook on this weekend’s match-ups with the 9th-ranked Utes and 20th-ranked Brigham Young, matches that resonate with rivalry and always factor into the conference race.
The Rams will be playing for second place in the conference (and the second seed in the MWC tournament), as well as to improve their chances for a 12th consecutive berth into the NCAA tournament.
“We have the same focus in approaching these matches, if not even more so now that we have something to prove,” said senior defensive specialist Lindsey Hillegass, who will be honored along with senior outside hitter Katherine Whitney on senior night Saturday against Utah.
“I think no matter what happened going in, these were two huge matches,” said Whitney. “With senior night, too, we’re all really pumped up.”
First up for the Rams are the BYU Cougars, today at 7 p.m. in Moby Arena. BYU has been ranked in the top-25 the entire season and is tied with the Rams for second place in the conference with an 11-3 league record.
CSU played one of its closest matches of the season at BYU on Sept. 16. The Cougars were able to pull off a five-game victory that night, but the Rams played perhaps their best all-around match up to that point.
The Rams feel that their improvement since then should be good enough to help them get a win this time around.
“We played pretty well in that match, but we weren’t as consistent as we are now,” said Head Coach Tom Hilbert. “We’re much better at the little things now.”
One of those things is confidence. The Rams now have the attitude of a winning team, believing they can play with just about anybody.
“We are a completely different team now than (the last BYU match),” said Whitney. “Every aspect of our game has improved.”
Saturday at 7 p.m. the Rams play their regular season finale against Utah, a team that is undefeated in conference and has only two losses overall – both on the road to top-25 teams.
One of their victories was a three-game sweep of the Rams on Sept. 15 in Salt Lake City.
Utah finished with 15.5 team blocks in that win, using the height of 6-foot-2-inch sophomore Lori Baird, 6-foot-1-inch junior Whitney Webb, and 6-foot-7inch junior Emillie Toone for a dominant defensive performance.
Toone is second in the nation in blocks per game with 1.90, but Hilbert credits the whole team’s efforts in becoming the league’s best blocking squad.
“They’re all good blockers,” he said. “What helps them is that they have one of the best outside hitters in the country in (sophomore) Airial Salvo and they pound it at you in every opportunity.”
CSU will need to find a way around Utah’s height as well as limiting Salvo, whose 4.18 kills per game is second best in the MWC.
With senior night, the end of the regular season, and the conference and NCAA tournaments all looming large, one might think it is exactly what the Rams need to be inspired for these two rivalry matches.
But, according to Hilbert, that isn’t the case for the Rams, who understand that these matches are huge in and of themselves.
“This weekend doesn’t take anything special to get up for,” he said. “We just need to play them well and fee like we left everything out on the court. That’s the best way to prepare for the conference tournament.”
Jeff Dillon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday’s match against BYU will be aired on the mtn. Monday at 9 p.m., Tuesday at noon, and Wednesday at 9 p.m. next week. The Mountain West Conference tournament matches will all be televised on either the mtn. or CSTV.
Both Friday and Saturday’s matches can be heard on KCSU 90.5 FM.