The crowd may have been small, just 411 people, but the victory was huge.
Saturday, the CSU volleyball team traveled south across a frosty highway for a pivotal match against Mountain West rival Air Force (8-11, 0-7 MWC). Though the Falcons’ record may give off an impression of mediocrity, the lady cadets gave the Rams more trouble than anticipated.
The Rams (14-3, 6-0 MWC) were forced to come from behind numerous times in a match that saw the score tied 22 times. CSU won in straight sets (25-22, 26-24, 25-20) in a battle between I-25 rivals that had more than a few close calls for the green and gold.
No set was more intense than the second. After trailing the entire set, including a period in which the Rams were down by eight, CSU found their rhythm and came back to take the lead 24-23. Air Force made it a tie at 24, but two straight kills by outside hitter Katelyn Steffan and middle blocker Tessa Nelson, respectively, ended the set and gave the Rams the edge they needed to finish the final set.
“Give a lot of credit to Air Force,” said head coach Tom Hilbert. “They played an incredibly tough match and took us to the limit in the second set.”
Nelson was a large factor in the win as she led the match with four blocks for the Rams.
“Tessa showed why she is regarded as one of the best players in our conference,” Hilbert said. “She put together a total game and really stepped up when we needed her to.”
With the CSU victory and a Utah loss to New Mexico, the Rams were able to take their place as the sole owners of the No. 1 spot in the Mountain West standings, as they are the only team still undefeated in conference matches.
The win also marked the 10th straight win for the Rams who have now won 14 out of their last 15 sets, including an impressive 6-1 record away from home.
It certainly didn’t come easily. The Falcons kept in range in both the first and second sets, but poor serving (Air Force had 12 service errors) and CSU out-blocking the Falcons 11-3 led to Air Force’s demise. The Falcons were able to apply loads of pressure despite their errors, but CSU’s excellent net play, behind outside hitter Caroline Kurtz’s match leading 15 kills, ultimately prevailed.
Colorado State is in the heart of its conference schedule with 11 more matches to go, all against conference foes and seven of which will be at home. The first of those matches comes Thursday when the fourth place BYU Cougars come to town.
Volleyball beat reporter Keith Robertson can be reached at email@example.com.