Tonight the CSU volleyball team (20-4, 12-1 MWC) will put its conference title on the line against the third best team in the Mountain West.
The Rams will play two televised games this week against both teams that call the state of Utah home, Utah and BYU. CSU’s volleyball team is currently sitting on top of the conference, but TCU and Utah (15-9, 8-4) have their teeth securely fastened to the Rams’ back hooves.
The match marks the 72nd time the two teams have met, and the Rams lead the overall series 47-24, including this year’s sweep of the Utes inside the helpful doors of Moby Arena. However, the last time these conference rivals met in Salt Lake City, the Rams lost 3-1, and the Utes will surely want a repeat of their 2008 performance.
The Utes are coming off of back-to-back road losses after being picked to finish first in the preseason MWC poll, and they could have a very large chip on their shoulders. Utah is solid defensive team with five players who have 50 or more blocks, which has allowed them to reach 2.17 blocks per set.
But, the Utes also run an efficient offense.
Utah has 43 fewer attacking errors than their opponents and 12 fewer service errors. That offense has earned a fourth-place spot in the MWC with a hitting percentage of .213 and to win, the Rams will need to rely on what has been a staple of the team this year: motivated defense.
CSU has been able to out-block its opponents by 88.5 so far this season, and the Rams have only allowed a .151 kill percentage in 2009 behind the stellar play of senior libero Katelin Batten. Batten now holds Ram records in total digs with 1636 and is third on the MWC all-time list.
Tonight, Batten could serve up more intimidation than just her numbers. She could play the Rams fourth televised game wearing a protective mask, as she broke her nose going for a ball during practice earlier this week.
Scary enough, but the Rams have adopted a certain attitude about playing the ladies of Utah.
Junior outside hitter Danielle Minch has previously said that when she plays Utah or BYU she is, “out for blood.”
And she showed it the last time out.
On Oct. 17, Minch had 19 kills, a total almost four times as many as any player on the Utah squad. Impressive, but her .469 kill percentage was good for only fourth on her team, meaning the Rams will use their balanced attack to set up scoring opportunities.
After their last loss on the road, which came at TCU, CSU has adopted a “never underestimate” mentality. Each match could cost them a shiny trophy if they don’t win, so expect each team to leave it all out on the floor tonight.
Volleyball Beat Reporter Keith Robertson can be reached at email@example.com.