The CSU volleyball team can still win the Mountain West Conference title this season, but its shot at doing so took a big hit Thursday night in a five-set loss to the Brigham Young Cougars.
BYU (13-12, 6-9 MWC), with nothing to play for but pride, shocked the Rams (22-4, 12-3 MWC) at Elaine Michaelis Court in Provo, Utah with a flawless performance.
“They played very, very well and didn’t make errors. That was the best I’ve seen them play all season,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “We had targets on our back, and they know they’re not going to the NCAA tournament and playing at home, so they’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
BYU jumped out to a 2-0 lead, recording only six hitting errors, compared to 18 by the Rams. CSU, however, stormed back in the third and fourth set to force a deciding set five. It was the third straight year the Rams’ trip to Provo ended in a five-set match, though the Rams won in 2006 and 2007.
“They are obviously very comfortable in their home environment,” said Hilbert.
CSU controlled most of set five, at one point leading 9-4. But the Cougars tied it all up at 14, and from then on out the two teams went point for point. CSU had five opportunities at match point to put it away, but unforced errors and strong defense propelled BYU to the win 22-20.
“We lost the lead and found ourselves scraping, trying to earn points to win it,” said Hilbert. “They held us off, and I thought we played tentatively at the end.”
Mekana Barnes continued her torrid streak as of late, recording 22 kills on .447 hitting with three solo blocks and seven block assists.
“She stepped up and competed,” said Hilbert. “That is good for us and good for her. She’s going to have to play like this the rest of the season if we want to continue playing.”
The Rams played without the services of sophomore outside-hitter Jacque Davisson, who is out with a sprained ankle sustained in practice this week.
“We could have used her tonight,” said Hilbert. “She would have helped us in passing situations and her outside hitting as well.”
Even with the loss, CSU still has a shot at the MWC title. With a win on Saturday over Utah (20-5, 13-2 MWC) in Salt Lake City, each team will finish the conference season with three losses, but the Rams will own the tie-breaker as they defeated the Utes in five sets in Moby on Sept. 18. Utah defeated Wyoming in three sets Thursday night.
Hilbert said it is going to take a much better effort from his squad to defeat a Utah team that is much more talented than BYU. It will be tough going for the Rams at Crimson Court as Utah has won 13 consecutive home MWC matches.
“We’ve got to play the way we know how to play,” said Hilbert. “Utah has more weapons and is athletic, and they’re not going to make as many errors.”
First serve is at 1 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday. Readers can visit collegiansports.com over break for results.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.