With a forgettable opening weekend now behind them, the CSU volleyball team will take aim at re-establishing their home court dominance as they host Georgia Southern tonight in the 18th annual Hilton Classic.
This weekend’s tournament, which also includes match-ups against Ohio State and UT-Arlington, will be the second in as many weeks for the Rams, who went 1-2 in last weekend’s Asics/Coors Classic.
Georgia Southern (3-0) features four returning starters from their 2008 squad, which finished two games under .500. Despite being a smaller school, they will not be taken lightly.
“They look like a fast paced team on film, similar to how Pepperdine played,” said head coach Tom Hilbert, who has a career 171-23 record at Moby Arena. “We’re going to have to play well to win.”
Improvement defensively will be paramount to the Rams success this weekend. At the heart of that defense is 5-foot-5-inch senior libero, Katelin Batten.
“It’s about recognizing what the other teams are doing before they do it,” said Batten, CSU’s all-time leader in digs. “We’ve been running tons of defensive drills this week.”
Along with defensive progression, the Rams will need continued maturation from sophomore setter Evan Sanders, filling in for the departed Ashley Fornstrom.
“It could be 15-20 matches before Evan is playing as well as she can,” Hilbert said.
The key for Sanders will be finding chemistry with her hitters, much like a quarterback must find chemistry with his receivers – a process than can take quite some time to develop.
“I’m starting to find out what tempo my hitters are good with,” said Sanders, who totaled 93 assists over the weekend. “It’s coming along a lot faster than I expected.”
As Sanders improves, so will the Rams killing percentage, resulting in fewer long rallies and more victories, an illustration of Sanders importance to her team.
Headlining the Hilton Classic this year will be Friday night’s bout between the Rams and the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes (4-0), struggled in 2008 with a record of 12-20 but return six starters this season.
“Ohio State has some gifted players,” Hilbert said. “But we are focusing on Georgia Southern right now.”
The atmosphere at Moby Arena for last weekend’s Asics/Coors Classic was phenomenal. The Rams’ student support has been the foundation for their monumental home record during Hilbert’s tenure at CSU.
“All our opponents know Moby’s reputation,” Batten said. “We feel a certain amount of cockiness when we step on the floor.”
The Rams will be without the services of sophomore outside hitter Katelyn Steffan this weekend. Steffan left Saturday night’s game against Oregon State after injuring her foot during the second set. She is expected to be back in the lineup sometime next week, though an exact timetable is unknown.
“Offensively we’re going to live and die with Jacqui (Davisson) and Dani (Minch),” Hilbert said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got a lot of things we need to get better at.”
It is expected that freshman Dana Cranston will see increased playing time in the absence of Steffan, while fellow freshmen Tori Brummett is expected to debut this weekend for the Rams at middle blocker.
Tonight’s match against Georgia Southern begins at 7 p.m. Fans can follow a live match blog at Collegiansports.com.
Volleyball beat reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org