The Colorado State volleyball team, coming off their worst loss of the season, after straight sets beat-down at the hands of the Ram-slaying TCU Horned Frogs, strolled into the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Center, Saturday.
The Rams, (17-4, 9-1 MWC) who are ranked No. 25 in the country and have the largest bull’s eye in the Mountain West planted squarely on their foreheads, stepped out in front of 2,123 fans to take on the Lobos (14-6, 5-5 MWC) in a match that could have cost the Rams first place in the conference but instead went five sets and proved the resolve the young squad possesses.
“Our team does believe they’re very competitive in those clutch situations,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “I could tell our team was playing with a great deal of composure and confidence and we really just started playing great defense and stopping New Mexico and transitioning for kills.”
An alarm needed to sound inside the craniums of the lady Rams after getting embarrassed by TCU, instead a fire alarm erupted and delayed the game for 10 minutes before the Rams could put on one of the most impressive statistical matches of the season.
Megan Plourde, a red-shirt freshman out of Somerset, Wis., had a career match as the young Ram played a complete game maxing out both her offensive and defensive skills. Plourde finished tied with junior Danielle Minch, with a team-high 14 kills and had only three attacking errors with a .500 kill percentage, adding nine total blocks to her impressive day.
“She is a very good player and she’s been really consistent for us,” Hilbert said. “She’s not the most powerful player in the world but she hits very high and very smart. Her blocking was critical for us.”
Defense was the deciding factor in a match that saw 41 ties and 20 lead changes. The Rams took sets one and three, 25-18 and 25-20, respectively. The match was comparable to a table tennis championship as it went back and forth with New Mexico winning the second and fourth sets with the exact scores as the Rams won theirs, 25-18 and 25-20, respectively.
Because of the stellar Ram defense that produced 19 blocks, the Lobos couldn’t conjure enough offense to finish off the fifth set and the CSU won 15-11. Senior libero, Katelin Batten, also had a big day, producing her fourth 20-dig match of the season. Hilbert said that while “Batty” played well, it was a team effort that secured the “huge” win for the Rams.
“We made a lot more mistakes than we normally do against this team. It was important to do something to disrupt them and score points on them, and I think that’s how we ended up winning,” Hilbert said.
Defense was important, but the Rams also produced while on the offensive. The green and gold had four players with double digit kills and setter Evan Sanders’ tallied two more assists than her New Mexico counterpart and preseason Co-player of the year, Jade Michaelson and was substantial as the Rams made mistakes.
CSU was out-served in this match. The Lobos had two more aces and four fewer service errors, however, CSU found a way to win the final set and stay one game ahead of Utah and TCU in the MWC standings.
The young CSU squad could have given up while on the road, but alternatively produced and prevailed.
“We can still grow, but I do think that we play beyond our age,” Hilbert said. “We stretch opponents and make them work for everything.”
The Rams will be back in action this Friday as they play the second Border War match against the Wyoming Cowgirls (10-14, 1-9 MWC).
Volleyball beat reporter Keith Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.