The CSU volleyball team starts its second season today as the Rams begin NCAA tournament play, taking on the Golden Panthers of Florida International in Gainesville, Fla.
After losing its final three matches of the season, including defeats at BYU and Utah, which dashed the team’s hopes of repeating as MWC champs, the Rams are looking at the NCAA tournament as a brand new season.
“That’s exactly how we’re looking at it,” said senior setter, Ashley Fornstrom. “What’s done is done; it’s a new beginning.”
Junior libero Katelin Batten said the team has moved past the disappointing finish to the regular season and is excited for the tournament.
“It’s just kind of exciting, it’s like nothing else matters,” said Batten. “Not winning conference doesn’t matter. Losing the past three games doesn’t matter because we’re starting brand new.”
The Rams have advanced past the first round in 13 of 19 trips to the NCAA tournament, though its first round match-up against FIU is not going to be a pushover.
Head coach Tom Hilbert showed the team film of the Golden Panther team, which features all international players, and the team was impressed.
“They’re good. Tom’s been telling us that if they were in the Mountain West they’d be one of the best teams in the conference,” said Batten. “They’re not going to be some pushover team.”
Hilbert said his team needs to improve its defense and blocking if it wants to defeat the Sun Belt conference champions.
“We’ve been not bad offensively,” said Hilbert. “Our serving, blocking and defense, we’ve got to figure that out and acclimate ourselves for better competition.”
And the team is playing on the road, where the Rams have struggled at times this season, going 6-6.
“Playing in a place you’ve never played before you can’t get real comfortable, but we’re going to do our best to get used to the environment when we get down there,” said Fornstrom.
The Rams left for Gainesville Wednesday afternoon and held practice on Thursday to get acclimated to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The team last played a tournament match in Gainesville in 2003, losing to Florida in the regional semifinal.
This is Fornstrom’s last NCAA tournament run and said the entire team needs to play every match as its last.
“Every game could be your last and you have to go all out,” Fornstrom said.
With a win over FIU, and a Florida win over Florida A&M, the two would square up in a re-match of earlier this season in which the Rams swept the Gators 3-0 at Moby Arena; a prospect that excites the team.
“If we win and Florida wins, we’re pumped to play them at their place,” said Batten. “We’re familiar with them and last time it was exciting when they were here and so we’re really excited.”
First serve against FIU is today, 3 p.m. MT. Fans can listen to play-by-play on 90.5 KCSU-FM or kcsufm.com.
Volleyball beat writer Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.