For the past several seasons, the core of CSU volleyball has involved three players. Now in their final season as Rams, Mekana Barnes, Ashley Fornstrom and Jamie Strauss are gearing up for what is expected to be an amazing senior season.
Fornstrom, an all-conference setter, said she has never been on a team with this much potential before.
“I haven’t played on a team this well ever in my life,” she said. “It’s nice to say I play with an All-American (Barnes) and another all-conference hitter (Strauss) and to know that we’re developed enough to be going in as the 17 ranked team this season.”
CSU was picked to win the Mountain West Conference and was honored with a No.17 national ranking in the first American Volleyball Coaches Association poll of the season. Barnes, Fornstrom and Strauss were also named the preseason all-conference team.
Head coach Tom Hilbert said this year’s team has so much depth that even returning all-conference players such as Strauss and Fornstrom are still fighting for starting spots. Having new players with so much talent has helped to motivate the veterans, Strauss said.
“There are a lot of new people coming in and pushing old players,” the outside hitter said. “All around we have a good group of girls, and it keeps you in check, and it is good for everybody.”
Hilbert seemed optimistic about Barnes’ playing, saying the middle blocking position has been solidified.
Barnes posted 420 kills and 177 blocks on her way to being named a third-team All-American her junior season.
Barnes is humble about her All-American status, admitting that it is still surprising to her.
“If I had to set my own goals, I would not set a goal to be an All-American,” she said. “It was a surprise, a blessing, and I’m glad I got it. But this is a whole new season.”
Although she was named as one of the best players in the nation, Barnes said there is always room to improve and that CSU is a great place to help.
“Every summer I have stayed here and worked out. I have gotten better physically, and I hope my skills as a player continue to improve,” the six-footer said. “I don’t think you can ever stop getting better.”
Even though the season is still young, Barnes, Fornstrom and Strauss have already set goals for the team including winning the conference and advancing to the regional round of the NCAA tournament which is scheduled to be held in Moby Arena.
Even though she can’t help but look forward to a chance to play tournament games in front of a home crowd, Barnes is still going to take it slowly, making sure the team gets that far.
“We try not to get so far ahead of ourselves, but we do have meetings, and we do set goals,” she said. “We talk about what a great opportunity (we have), and we can do great things if we take care of business.”
Sports reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.