The CSU athletic season kicks off today as the Rams’ volleyball team faces its first opponent for 2009 after making its 14th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament a year ago.
The Rams will face three opponents, one on each of the weekend days, during their home opening tournament, The Asics/Coors Classic.
The atmosphere in Moby should be electric this evening as free towels and “GREEN MACHINE” T-shirts will go to the first 500 students in the door, but that’s not the only reason to attend.
CSU, once again, is getting some high praise as the team has found itself voted into the No. 24 spot of the preseason coaches’ poll. The reasons: coaching and personnel. The Rams are bringing back four starters and head coach Tom Hilbert has built one of the most successful programs in the country.
Last season the Rams finished with a 23-7 record that included an amazing undefeated record at Moby. Skill is the most likely culprit, but the players said the crowd may aid them in their success.
“I hope that people come out and support us,” said senior Tessa Nelson. “We love having that crowd, and it helps us, it really does.”
The Rams will establish their season facing one of the West Coast Conference’s best, Pepperdine. Last season the Waves were able to harness success as they finished with an overall record of 20-8 that also boasted a 12-2 non-conference record, which included a win over CSU.
When the two schools met last September, the Waves were able to outlast the Rams 3-1. But now that the Rams have a clean slate and are playing for revenge on their home court, the eagerness to play has come over them – and washed away some of the nerves.
“I think it is a good nervous,” senior Katelin Batten said. “I think that once the game starts, we’ll be fine. We’re more excited than nervous. We have some good competition, but we expect to win.”
In addition to Pepperdine, the Rams will be facing two more west coast schools this weekend. CSU will take on the Oregon State Beavers Saturday at 7 p.m. and the Cal-Poly Mustangs Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Beavers had a down year in 2008 as the team finished in second-to-last place in the Pac-10 with an overall record of 14-17. CSU also has the advantage because the Beavers were unable to build a dam that bridged their 6-9 record at home and their abysmal 3-8 road record. When the two teams met last season, the Rams led with their horns and beat the Beavers 3-0.
Though the previous year’s results may indicate a ride on Easy Street for the Rams, Hilbert is still weary of underestimating a team that’s used to surf and sand.
“Any time you play a Pac-10 team or a team from the West Coast, the volleyball players on those teams are good players,” Hilbert said. “We will physically match up well with all those teams, but they’re going to be great defensively and they’re going to be great servers and passers.”
Cal-Poly may prove to be one of those opponents that has the ability to fluster the Rams. The Mustangs concluded last season with an overall record of 16-13 while going 5-7 on the road. The Rams dominated their time across the net from Cal-Poly – they won four of their six match-ups.
CSU’s main goal this season is to win the Mountain West Conference, making these games seem a little hollow, but the experience against good squads should help the team in its development before conference matchups begin.
“They’re going to understand the game of volleyball at a high level, and we have to play with them, and if our game of volleyball is at their level, our athleticism will win out,” Hilbert said.
The balls get airborne at 7 p.m. tonight at Moby Arena, located on west side of the CSU campus.
Volleyball beat writer Keith Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.