Playing with the likes of BYU and Utah, the CSU volleyball team is in for a fight for the MWC title this season. But with scrambling defense and strong team depth, the No. 15 Rams defeated No. 24 BYU in three sets (25-18, 25-20, 25-19) Saturday night in Moby Arena for their 21st consecutive home match win.
More importantly, the win gives the Rams a 2-0 conference record after also defeating Utah last Thursday.
“It is a tough stretch, but we opened with them at home,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “Now we got to wait almost two months to play them again.”
In those two months, Hilbert would like to see his team improve, particularly on offense with its serving and passing. Hilbert believes whichever team improves the most in the next two months will win the conference.
“To me this is the challenge: which camp, the Colorado camp, the Utah camp, (or the) the BYU camp improves the most in the next eight weeks,” said Hilbert. “That’s what it’s going to come down to – who’s playing the best in the middle of November when we go on the road to their place.”
One advantage the Rams have is a deep rotation with many underclassmen playing significant roles. On Saturday, Hilbert dipped into that rotation, mixing in sophomores with the regular rotation featuring four seniors. Sophomore defensive specialist Crystin Rodrick was one of these players given more playing time.
“We do a lot of things off of what we see in practice, and Crystin has been playing well,” said Coach Hilbert. “She’s been passing the ball well, and we base a lot of what we do on good passing.”
Add scrambling defense to her good passing. Numerous times throughout the match Rodrick was diving on the floor for the ball to extend the rally as she recorded six digs.
“Everybody makes fun of me – they call me the flopper,” said Rodrick. “I fall pretty hard sometimes, but it’s a lot of fun going out there and defending the court.” Also playing significant roles were sophomore defensive specialists Emily Koenning and Audrey Hemmings. Sophomore Danielle Minch played in two sets and recorded two kills.
“We’re lucky that we have a lot of kids that can do different things,” said Hilbert.
The Rams play another conference match against Wyoming next Saturday, a match that suddenly looks a little harder after the Cowgirls beat Utah in three sets over the weekend.
“It (the Wyoming win) means whoever shows up to play, whoever is on their game can take matches, take games off of you,” said senior Mekana Barnes. “We have to be prepared and not lose focus, no matter who we play in the conference.”
The Rams have not lost focus in their past five matches, going up against teams such as CU-Boulder, North Carolina and Florida, a stretch Hilbert says has helped the team.
“It’s great our players know how to battle. I don’t want to go through a stretch where we don’t play good people. I don’t want to go soft,” said Hilbert. “I want these guys to stay alert all the time, be ready to go into battle every night.”
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.