Hosting its biggest rival in the conference and playing on national television has the Rams volleyball team pumped and ready for tonight’s game against the Brigham Young University Cougars.
BYU (13-5, 5-3) was ranked 17th when the CSU defeated them on Sept. 22, but has since dropped to No. 33. The Rams (13-4, 7-1) have been stellar since the matchup and have climbed to a No. 21 rank in the country.
“The rankings are a good honor and mean that you have the respect of coaches and teams all across the country,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “You want to live up to that. You want to be able to beat the teams you’re compared to.”
The Cougars are certainly a comparable team. They have a nearly identical overall record as the Rams and like CSU, BYU has multiple players with over 200 kills and a reputation for being one of the top volleyball programs in the country.
CSU has moved up the ladder by beating ranked teams like Ohio State and BYU. Outside hitter Jaime Strauss is excited but not yet satisfied with where the team is.
“It’s exciting and I think it’s more exciting knowing that we could be ranked higher,” Strauss said. “We’re not satisfied with where we are. We’re just going to keep playing hard and see how far we can get.”
The Rams expect a hard fought match and are hoping for a huge fan turnout. Libero Katelin Batten stressed the importance of student support in front of a national audience.
“Our fans, and our student section especially, is a big part of how we play,” Batten said. “We really get fired up when our fans are loud, and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s also hard for the other team when our fans are real rowdy and loud.”
Hilbert also made a case about the benefit of a packed, home-court atmosphere.
“Our home court environment is the best in our conference, and it’s something our players take a lot of pride in,” he said. “When we do have the big crowds, it gives them something extra to play for, and it really adds some energy to our game.”
CSTV has picked tonight’s game as the Mountain West match of the week, but middle blocker Mekana Barnes isn’t concerned with the extra media attention.
“Since most of us have done it before, I don’t think that it makes that big of a difference,” Barnes said. “I think it affects the fans more, and they may get a little more pumped up about it.”
The Cougars are led by outside hitter Chelsea Goodman. Goodman is coming off her first ever triple-double against Utah. She also already has the most double-doubles in Mountain West history with 47.
Hilbert admitted that they can only hope to slow Goodman down.
“She hits hard enough where she will go through the block occasionally,” he said. “She’s just somebody you put up a solid block on, and try to slow the ball down. She isn’t a player that you can dig very easily if you don’t block her.”
CSU is running several promotions to try and get fans to come support the team tonight, including $1 youth tickets, a sign contest, a school spirit contest and free rally towels to the first 1,500 fans.
Hilbert expects a tough match and doesn’t see many weaknesses in the Cougars.
“They’re athletic in every single position,” he said. “The only thing they have a weakness in is that they’re not a good defensive team. They’re a challenge”
Volleyball beat reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers:
Average team assists per game: CSU – 15.32; BYU – 15.12
Team hitting percentage: CSU – .276; BYU – .274
Team blocks per game: CSU – 3.52; BYU – 2.9
Most efficient hitter: CSU: Mekana Barnes at .409; BYU Rachel Dyer at .436
Kill leader: CSU: Jaime Strauss – 252; BYU: Chelsea Goodman at 283