For most folks, it would have been easy to bail from the bandwagon known as Colorado State volleyball, especially after the team lost its first two matches of the 2009 season, both of which were held at home in Moby Arena. But to those dedicated faithful who stuck around through the rough start: Thank you. And to those fair weather fans: You might want to think about rejoining the crowd at Moby Arena next Thursday.
No one is going to sugar coat that brutal start CSU had at the Asics/Coors Classic. The Rams lost their first six sets of the season, averaging a clip of .192 in those two matches. Things were rough. There seemed to be a lot of miscommunication, and the graduation of Mekana Barnes, Ashley Fornstrom and Jaime Strauss appeared to be more costly than expected.
Enter Danielle Minch.
In the Rams’ first victory of the season, a 3-0 sweep of Cal Poly, Minch led the Rams with 15 kills, three service aces and a .414 hitting percentage. Not a bad performance by the Sterling native.
And Minch didn’t stop there. When the Rams beat undefeated Ohio State, she led the team with 16 kills. Against Texas-Arlington, 11 kills with a .409 clip. And this weekend at the Carolina Classic, hosted by the University of North Carolina, Minch had 44 kills, including a career-best 18 against the Tennessee Lady Vols, all of this en route to being named the tournament’s MVP.
After the team returned home from Chapel Hill on Sunday, I had a chance to ask Minch about whether or not she thought she’d play as big a role this season as she has.
“I kind of expected when (Barnes, Fornstrom and Strauss) graduated, being a junior and all, that I’d play more, especially filling the hole left by Jaime since we both play outside hitter,” she said.
Prior to this season, the four Rams everyone focused on were Jacque Davisson, Katelin Batten, Katelin Steffan and the Mountain West Conference’s preseason offensive MVP, Tessa Nelson. Not to take away from any of those players, but Minch is this squad’s all-star right now, leading the Rams with 125 kills, and her five service aces on the season are only one shy of the Queen of Aces, Ms. Davisson.
Things are looking good once again for CSU volleyball, especially after winning the Carolina Classic this weekend – it’s exactly what the Rams needed heading into MWC play on Friday at UNLV.
Even though CSU lost the opening match of the road trip at Duke, they answered back, sweeping all three of their tournament opponents. (Duke was not included in the Carolina Classic.) This weekend’s road trip showed a lot of character for these young women, most notably in the match against Marshall, who had a record of 9-0 until facing the Rams, and Tennessee, who had received 24 Top 25 votes in the AVCA Poll last week.
Winning matches like those on neutral sites as well as a victory over North Carolina in a hostile environment will really help this team when they head to the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas this week. Sure, UNLV is having some epic struggles right now with a 1-6 record, but that one victory was against Valparaiso, a team who has won twenty matches each of the last seven seasons.
“I’m really glad we got to go on this road trip before conference play. It was great to show the younger players what it’s like playing on the road, especially in volleyball when you have to go from high altitude down to sea level.”
And you know that the Rams aren’t overlooking the Rebels, especially when UNLV upset 13th-ranked CSU last year in Sin City. Plus, the three UNLV players who gave the Rams fits in 2008, Cursty Jackson, Jessica Walters and Erin Greenwood, are all back this season. This is going to be a good test for the Rams as they open up conference play.
But win or lose, the Rams still come back to Moby Arena next Thursday night to play host to New Mexico, a team that is quickly becoming a conference rival on the volleyball court. While the winning streak isn’t quite what it was to start the year, the CSU volleyball team has won their last four home matches. Don’t bail on these ladies just yet, keep on defending that Fort.
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.