The 18th-ranked Rams volleyball team faces Pacific-10 competition for the second time this season. CSU (18-5 11-2) will play the Arizona Wildcats (3-11 13-13) tonight at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
The Rams lost 3-2 to Oregon State, its first Pac-10 opponent, at the Asics Challenge in Honolulu, Hawaii, during its first match of the year. The Pac-10 currently has six out its 10 teams ranked in the top 25 in Division I volleyball.
Coach Tom Hilbert expects to see a fearless Arizona squad, since the Wildcats face that kind of competition on a consistent basis.
“They’re playing night in and night out the best teams in the country,” he said. “So they will have no fear, and we’re playing at the McKale Center. It’s going to be a battle, and we will have to play extremely well to win.”
CSU is coming off three consecutive sweeps, including its most recent on Wednesday night against the Wyoming Cowgirls. The Rams have 14 sweeps out of 18 total match wins.
Even with the sweeps, Hilbert noted after the Wyoming game that the Rams need to pass better to win on the road.
“I think we need to be better as a passing team to win our next few road matches,” he said. “I think we will be, but it’s really critical.”
The Rams are currently fourth in the NCAA in blocks with 3.65 a game. Arizona is 24th with 3.04 a game; therefore, Hilbert expects a physical battle.
“They’re very physical,” Hilbert said. “I’m certain that they’re going to be a good blocking team themselves.”
With blocking being the Rams most dominant element this season, Hilbert acknowledged that team blocking will be a determining factor for how far they go down the stretch.
“We will win matches when we block well, and when we don’t block well, we are going to struggle,” he said.
Setter Ashley Fornstrom is stoked for tonight’s fresh competition.
“I’m pumped,” she said. “You don’t get very many chances while you’re in season to go and play teams from different conferences. That’s what the NCAA tournament is. It’s nice to get a new look at different kinds of teams.”
Hilbert agreed that the match should be exciting and beneficial.
“Sometimes you need to get out of your normal conference routine and play somebody new and exciting because it gets your team fired up,” he said. “It can raise the level of our game and that can do nothing but help us.”
Volleyball beat reporter Brandon Owens can be reached at email@example.com