Nov 262006
 
Authors: Jeff Dillon Rocky Mountain Collegian

Before Saturday, top-seeded Utah had yet to lose a match to a Mountain West opponent this season.

Apparently, the Rams decided to wait until the most significant match to put an end to that streak.

Third-seeded CSU clawed back from a two-game deficit to defeat the ninth-ranked team in the country 25-30, 19-30, 34-32, 30-20, 15-10 for the MWC tournament championship in Las Vegas.

The comeback win clinches a 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament for the Rams.

Utah had won the previous two matches between the teams in three and four games, the latter occurring just one week before they met in the title match.

But the one that meant the most went to the Rams.

Sophomore outside hitter Jaime Strauss had a double-double with 12 kills and 12 digs and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Sophomore middle blocker Mekana Barnes had a career-high 24 kills and sophomore setter Ashley Fornstrom finished with 59 assists, 10 digs and five kills. Both Barnes and Fornstrom joined Strauss on the all-tournament team.

It did not look good for the Rams early on, as Utah quickly built up a two-game lead behind the hot hitting of sophomore Airial Salvo, who picked up 18 kills in the loss.

But CSU kept battling, recovering from a 26-21 deficit to win a tight third game. The Rams owned game four, and then carried the momentum into the decisive game five victory, aided by four kills from Barnes in the final seven points of the match.

It was the first time this season the Rams had recovered to win after dropping the first two games; the team had been 0-4 before Saturday.

CSU got to the championship match through its semifinal match Friday against San Diego State, which knocked out the tournament’s two-seed, Brigham Young, in the first round.

Struass had 16 kills on a .375 hitting percentage in the Rams’ 30-21, 30-25, 30-16 win over the Aztecs.

Thursday night, CSU opened tournament play against a feisty TCU team. TCU capitalized on 32 Ram errors to keep it close, but the Rams got on a roll late for a 33-31, 30-32, 30-28, 30-16 win.

Strauss again led the Rams with 24 kills, while senior Katherine Whitney added 11 and junior Tonya Mokelki had 10 against the Horned Frogs.

Up next for CSU are the defending national champion Washington Huskies (25-4), who are the No. 6 seed in the tournament. The match will played Thursday night in Boulder at 5 p.m. The winner of the match will face the winner of the Colorado-Boulder and New Mexico State match, which follows the Rams match.

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

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