The Rams volleyball team will begin their quest for a second consecutive Mountain West Conference championship tonight at Moby Arena, as they take on Duke in the Coors Rocky Mountain Challenge.
The Rams are hosting a â€œwhite outâ€ night, sponsored by Russell Athletics. The team is urging all students to wear white and will be handing out free T-shirts to the first 500 in attendance.
â€œIt gets a lot more people here,â€ senior defensive specialist Audrey Hemmings said. â€œHaving that many fans cheering us on gives us motivation to play really well.â€
The Rams, ranked No. 17 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, open their season at home for the third straight season, where they have had unprecedented success under coach Tom Hilbert. The Rams posted an impressive 15-3 record at Moby a season ago.
â€œFrom a crowd standpoint, itâ€™s amazing the energy that they bring to the game, and we definitely feel it out on the court,â€ junior outside hitter Katelyn Steffan said.
Duke comes into the match-up receiving votes in the AVCA poll and was tied with Florida State atop the preseason ACC Coaches poll.
â€œDuke is one of the best teams in the country,â€ Hilbert said. â€œThey arenâ€™t ranked, but they should be.â€
In total, six Blue Devils made the preseason All-ACC team, including Lewis-Palmer High School star, Becci Burling.
â€œItâ€™s going to be packed in here,â€ Steffan said. â€œDuke is a big name in all sports.â€
Last season, the Blue Devils defeated the Rams in four sets in Durham, NC.
CSUâ€™s second match in the Rocky Mountain Challenge will be against the 2009 Southern Conference regular season champions, Furman. The Paladins finished last season 29-4, posting a 19-match winning streak along the way.
â€œWe respect Furman a great deal,â€ Hilbert said. â€œTheyâ€™re a great team with a history of success.â€
Playing two powerful teams on back-to-back nights seems like a rough way to start the season, but there is a method to coach Hilbertâ€™s madness.
â€œYou have to do the same in the NCAA tournament,â€ he said.
High expectations for the Rams following last year soared even higher following a preseason pick to win the conference and senior outside hitter Danielle Minch being named preseason Conference Player of the Year.
â€œWe ended the season really well last year,â€ Hemmings said. â€œThe first game is always there to work out some kinks and stuff, but I think itâ€™s a good time to see how weâ€™ll do the rest of the season.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t addressed (the expectations) at all,â€ Hilbert said. â€œOur goal is to win the Mountain West Conference. Everything else is just preparation for that.â€
Volleyball Beat Reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.