The CSU volleyball team better pack some sunscreen this weekend because it’s headed to Gainesville, Fla. for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. CSU is one of 33 schools to receive an at-large bid to the tournament, making its 14th consecutive trip.
The team, head coach Tom Hilbert and about fifty CSU students and Ft. Collins residents gathered at The Stonehouse Grille in Old Town Sunday night awaiting the announcement of the destination for the team’s first round match-up.
The Rams (22-6) take on the Florida International Golden Panthers (28-6) in the first round and with a win will play the winner between Florida and Florida A&M – a possible re-match with a Florida team the Rams beat at Moby on Sept. 13. Stanford (No. 2), Hawaii (No. 7), Purdue (No. 10) and Florida (No. 15) are the top teams in the bracket division. Hilbert said he is pleased with the selection and is excited for the possible re-match against Florida.
“I think we got a pretty good deal considering the way we have played recently,” said Hilbert. “This will give ourselves a warm-up then a chance to play Florida and get back here. Our team is familiar with them and ready for this. I’m actually really excited. Obviously we’ll go out to Gainesville and do the best we can.”
Hilbert does not know much about Florida International besides the fact that they will have many foreign players and are a team the Rams should beat. Senior setter Ashley Fornstrom looks forward to its first-round match-up.
“They are a beatable team,” said Fornstrom. “It will be a little rougher since it is on the road, but we need to finish games which we haven’t been doing lately and do more on defense and stay strong throughout.”
Fornstrom is also excited about the possible re-match with Florida, who Hilbert said will be much improved from when the two played each other in September.
“They are going to be much better. Young teams like them improve throughout the season and they are going to be at home and will be looking for revenge,” Hilbert said. “We’ve shown we’ve done it before.”
The winner of the second round match will travel to CSU’s Moby Arena on Dec. 12-13 for the regional semifinals and final. Hilbert said there may be some added pressure for CSU to make it to the regional round back home.
“I’m sure it’s added some pressure,” said Hilbert. “Though I’ve never spoken to the team about getting back here.”
Fornstrom looked at it as extra motivation.
“I think it’s more of a motivation thing for us to get back to Moby and play,” said Fornstrom. “We can surprise some people and do it here in our home court which we feel so comfortable in.”
The winner of the regional final at Moby will advance to the Final Four Dec. 18-20 in Omaha, Neb. The Rams never have advanced beyond the regional semifinals and last went to the regional semifinal in 2003, losing at Florida.
CSU student and volleyball fan Tracee Cammarata said she is excited about the team’s first and second round destination but would like to see her Rams play.
“We’re really excited, but we need fans there,” said Cammarata, who is a junior majoring in equine science. “We want to support our team; it’s good for the team. Whether it’s five, 10 or two of us it would help them out and I think CSU should pay the bill and get students there.”
Dates and times have not been set for the first- and second-round matches, which begin on Dec. 4.
CSU was one of two teams from the MWC to make it to the tournament, with MWC champion Utah being the other. Utah, which earned the No. 12 seed, heads to Clemson, S.C. to face Furman. The Utes are in the Seattle, Wash. regional side of the bracket.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.