The CSU volleyball season lives to see another match, thanks to a thrilling five-set victory over the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Thursday evening.
The win came before 2,588 raucous fans crowding Moby Arena for the NCAA Tournament first-round match up.
The two teams traded victories in the first four frames, setting up a winner-take-all fifth set.
As tensions mounted, the Rams opened the decisive set with a 4-0 run before a Blue Raiders’ timeout. As they have done all season long, the Rams depended on timely hitting from juniors Jacque Davisson and Danielle Minch in times of peril.
“We’ve won some five game matches throughout the season,” said senior middle blocker Tessa Nelson. “We should be pretty comfortable with them by this point.”
The Rams stretched the final game lead to 10-2 before ultimately winning the set and the match (25-19, 16-25, 25-22, 17-25, 15-6).
The Blue Raiders challenged the Rams all evening with their up-tempo offensive scheme that featured low sets and quick attacks.
“(MTSU) is one of the more difficult teams in the country to prepare for,” CSU head coach Tom Hilbert said. “That’s an awfully good team they have.”
The victory sets up a second-round showdown with the University of Washington, which will enter the match as the Tournament’s sixth-seeded team.
“Washington is an awesome team, they’re tough, they have huge athletes,” said MWC player of the year Danielle Minch. “If we play confidently, and we have the focus that we need I think we can do a really good job.”
The Rams and Huskies have Tournament history with one another, having faced off in a 2005 second round match at Moby. The Huskies won the match in straight sets en route to a national championship.
“We’re going to have to really find some extra energy to terminate some balls against the University of Washington,” Hilbert said.
Hilbert said he expects a tough match and understands his Rams’ role as underdogs. But for a team that has had its share of doubters this season, the Huskies better be ready to fight.
“That’s why you do this, that’s why you play the game,” said Hilbert, who has never led the Rams past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “Stranger things have happened. “
For a program that has never advanced past the second round in 21 attempts, there is plenty on the line tonight at Moby.
A trip to the Sweet 16 would not only get the proverbial monkey off the Rams back, but would also mark a homecoming of sorts for Nelson, a native of Balaton, Minn., Megan Plourde, of Somerset, Wisc., and Katelyn Steffan, from Dickinson, N.D.
“My family has been calling me and putting even more pressure on us,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be really fun to play them.”
The Rams and Huskies are set to square off tonight at 7, the match can be heard on 90.5 KCSU-FM.
Volleyball beat reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.