The CSU volleyball team continued its march toward a conference title on Thursday evening in Salt Lake City, defeating the homestanding Utah Utes in four sets.
The Rams (21-4, 13-1 MWC) opened the match with victories in the first two sets before the Utes responded with a win of their own in the third.
“(Utah) went in and made some adjustments,” said head coach Tom Hilbert after the match. “I told the team, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be with Utah. You don’t come in and sweep them on their home court.’”
The Rams trailed for much of the fourth set before tying the score at 20, and ultimately claimed the set and match, 25-23.
Yet again, the Rams depended on the stalwart right arm of outside hitter Danielle Minch, who closed the match with 20 kills.
“She was just money for us when we needed her,” Hilbert said. “She’s given our team a terminating weapon. Other teams are finding her hard to stop.”
Minch ranks second among all Mountain West Conference players with 3.71 kills per set, and has been instrumental in filling the void left by departed hitters Mekana Barnes and Jaime Strauss.
Thursday’s victory gives the Rams a season sweep of the Utes, the pre-season favorite to win the conference. With just two matches left in conference play, the Rams are in control of their own destiny, and can earn the outright conference title with wins over BYU on Saturday, and UNLV on Nov. 21.
Two more wins are all that separate Hilbert from his seventh Mountain West Championship. Still, the 13-year head coach refuses to look too far ahead.
“You just need to go play and execute,” Hilbert said. “Thinking about the repercussions of each win and loss won’t help you.”
The Rams play their final road match of the season on Saturday as they travel to Provo to take on BYU (13-12, 7-6). The Rams swept the Cougars on Oct. 15 at Moby Arena. But the Cougars were without their best player in senior outside hitter Kayla Walker, who leads the MWC with 3.97 kills per set.
The match will get underway at 7 p.m. this Saturday, and can be heard on 90.5 KCSU.
Volleyball Beat Reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.