About 1,000 strong came to their feet Thursday evening at Moby Arena to salute CSU volleyball head coach Tom Hilbert after winning his 500th career match.
The celebration came on the heels of the Rams’ straight set victory over the Air Force Falcons (25-17, 25-12, 27-25).
“It’s cool,” Hilbert said of his landmark victory. “When I was 24 years old starting my career, no way I thought I’d still be doing it at this age.”
After the Rams (19-4, 11-1 MWC) took a commanding 18-7 lead in the first set of the match, Hilbert decided to shuffle the lineup, giving many of his bench players solid minutes from that point forward. The coaching move seemed fitting on a night dedicated to Hilbert’s incredible success as head coach. And like so many times before, the Rams responded.
“I challenged my team a lot,” Hilbert said. “I wanted to play a set with neither senior on the court.”
That opportunity came in the third set, as both senior middle blocker Tessa Nelson and senior libero Katelin Batten sat for the entire frame. The Falcons challenged the squad mightily in the set, but ultimately the Rams found a way to win, highlighted by outside hitter Jacque Davisson’s kill that sent the Moby crowd into a frenzy.
“I think we learned that other people can step into the leadership role,” Davisson said. “I’m supremely confident in my teammates.”
Davisson, who missed the Rams’ last match with a concussion, didn’t hold anything back in her return to the court, leading all players with 11 kills.
“I’ve always played everything with intensity,” Davisson said. “That’s something Tom asked of us tonight, and I responded in a positive way.”
The Rams will need to carry that intensity into the final five matches of the season. Though the team has just one league loss and currently sits atop the Mountain West Conference standings, there is little room for error, with second-place TCU just one game behind the Rams at 10-2 in conference play.
Just moments after celebrating his 500th victory, Hilbert explained his focus is still entirely on winning his seventh regular season Mountain West Conference championship.
“I want to win matches to win a conference championship,” Hilbert said. “Getting Mountain West jewelry would be the ultimate (award).”
Volleyball beat reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at email@example.com.