The Big Dance.
March Madness, volleyball style. December Delirium, perhaps.
Whatever you call it, the NCAA Tournament starts today for the Colorado State volleyball team with a first round match against Cal State Fullerton at 5:30 p.m. on the campus of Stanford University.
The Rams are in the tournament for a 16th consecutive year, courtesy of an automatic bid for winning the Mountain West Conference.
The Fullerton Titans head into uncharted territory. When they step on the floor at Maples Pavilion it will mark the first NCAA Tournament match in school history.
The Rams know that they canâ€™t expect an easy match against the debutants.
â€œTheyâ€™re not complex, but theyâ€™re very efficient,â€ coach Tom Hilbert said of the Big West Conference champions. â€œThey serve really tough, and they donâ€™t have a lot of giveaway points. Theyâ€™re very mature in the way they play.
Youâ€™ve got to bring your A game when you play them.â€
Fullerton is coming off of its best season in program history. The Titans had never finished above fifth place in conference before winning it this season.
They also set school records for most conference wins in a season (14) and total wins in a season (26).
Fullerton enters the tournament as hot as a team can be. The Titans have won nine straight matches and 22 of 24 overall.
The Titans boast an attack that ranks sixth in the nation in kills per set, with an average of just over 14. They are led by outside hitter Erin Saddler, the Big West Player of the Year. Saddler posted 468 kills and 4.37 kills per set during the season.
The Rams counter with an award winner of their own in senior Danielle Minch, who was named MWC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season on Tuesday. Minch, along with fellow all-conference members Evan Sanders and Megan Plourde, lead an attack which averaged 13.33 kills per set during the season. The Rams also average 3.04 blocks per set on the season.
Seniors such as Minch and Jacque Davisson, the heart and soul of the team, know that this is their final run, and they want to make it special.
â€œExcited but taking it a little more seriously,â€ said Davisson on her feelings entering her final NCAA Tournament. â€œThe hard part will be to not take it too seriously, still to have fun and not think about if we lose itâ€™s my last game ever. Just go out and not leave anything.â€
The first round opponent is special for Davisson. She grew up less than five minutes from the Fullerton campus and both of her parents graduated from there. Davisson said that she was recruited by the Titans before deciding to come to CSU. Davisson said her parents will be in attendance â€“â€“ cheering for CSU, of course.
Some might worry that the Rams will overlook Fullerton in anticipation of a possible second round match against third overall seed Stanford, but CSU insists that will not be the case.
â€œWe just want to take each game at a time and itâ€™s hard not to look towards Stanford because theyâ€™re a great team, but we need to get past Fullerton first,â€ Minch said.
â€œOur players know that anything can happen,â€ Hilbert added.
In the end, CSU has to play its game, regardless of the opponent.
â€œItâ€™s not about who is on the other side of the court,â€ Sanders said. â€œItâ€™s about playing Colorado State volleyball.â€
For CSU, the time for talking is over; now itâ€™s time to dance.
Volleyball beat reporter Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.