The CSU volleyball team didn’t look like the No. 13 team in the nation for the first set Tuesday night against the Northern Colorado Bears. They did in the final three sets.
They looked a little tight and perhaps a little surprised to be in such a dogfight, but after losing the first set 28-26, the Rams showed why they are one of the top teams in the country, refusing to panic in their comeback 3-1 (26-28, 25-13, 25-20, and 25-19) victory over UNC.
“I thought we prepared well, we just didn’t come out with enough fire. They definitely wanted to beat us tonight. We made a lot of errors, and they didn’t,” said Mekana Barnes, who hit a blistering .520 in the match for the Rams with 16 kills and eight blocks.
The turning point in the match was the second set. CSU (14-1) calmed down and started executing to their ability, and the Bears (10-4) couldn’t handle it. CSU hit just .163 in the first set, but improved to .308 in the second, while holding the Bears to a -.032 hitting percentage in the set, .083 for the match.
“(The second set) was really important to show them that they weren’t in control,” Barnes said. “We had to come out and control the errors we were making in the first game, and that was the difference. We might have come out a little to uptight. We were hitting balls too long and out of bounds.”
One of the major keys to the Rams improvement after the second set was that they finally figured out how to block the UNC hitters, something they struggled to do early.
“The match-ups switched by one rotation in the second game, but I don’t think that’s what it was. You just have to learn how to block a team, and it took us a set to figure them out,” said CSU head coach Tom Hilbert.
The Rams knew that their first set struggles were fixable, so they had a good chance to take control of the game, as they did, winning going away in the final three sets.
“I don’t think that we were scared. I think that we were doing a lot of good things in the first game, but we weren’t controlling our hitting errors. We passed the ball really well, which is usually tough for us on the road, so we have to remember that for the future,” said senior Jamie Struass, who led the Rams with 17 kills and chipped in nine digs.
UNC and their season high crowd of 1,216 were very excited about the first set, but they couldn’t contain the momentum.
“It was very exciting to win the first set, since we haven’t done that since I’ve been here. They are ranked nationally, so that is huge for us,” said Kezie Shreeve, a UNC outside hitter. “As the match went on, I think that they played at the same level, and we came back down.”
Hilbert was very proud of the way a few bench players stepped up, especially when junior Tessa Nelson had to sit out some of the third and fourth set with an ankle injury.
“I thought that Danielle was awesome off the bench. I thought this was an awesome opportunity for her to step up, and she did that tonight,” said Hilbert, who also mentioned the play of Emily Koenning, who helped steady the Rams back row.
Minch was third on the Rams with 12 kills and added five blocks.
The win was the 11th in a row for CSU, but it was only the fourth true road match of the season, so the Rams were proud of the result.
“It is a road win, and we need these. We need the experience, and this was a difficult environment to play in, so the win is nice,” saidKatelin Batten, who had 21 digs.
Volleyball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.