Aug 282011
 
Authors: Kyle Grabowski

New faces in different places didn’t trip up the CSU volleyball team in its first action of the season, as the Rams won the Arkansas Invitational over the weekend.

CSU went 3-0 in the tournament, not losing a single set in defeating host Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State and McNeese State.

“I’m pleased and surprised that we played as cleanly as we did,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “We played as close to flawlessly as we could play.”

Despite the sweeps, it wasn’t complete domination by CSU. Middle Tennessee State pushed the Rams

near the end of the third set, but couldn’t make the necessary breakthrough.

“Winning the tight sets was the best part about it,” Hilbert said. “We did the right things at the right time. I don’t think we were dominant, but we played the game the right way.”

The Rams’ offense in particular was sharp, especially for this early in the season. CSU hit .310 for the tournament, highlighted by a .410 total hitting percentage in the final match against McNesse State. Hilbert attributed the high percentage primarily to the team keeping its errors low, as errors can bring a hitting percentage into the negatives rather than just closer to zero like a batting average.

“Players were taking control of what they were doing and not making mistakes,” he said.

Senior Katelyn Steffan was not only the offensive star for CSU, but also the tournament as a whole, being named MVP of the Arkansas Invitational. Steffan tallied 33 total kills in the tournament, reaching double digit kills in every game.

“She was great,” Hilbert said. “But I need to be careful not to expect her to be the answer in every match for us because I’m not sure if she’s ready for that. But this weekend she was doing everything right.”

Setter Deedra Foss, who won the off-season battle with Katie Rutherford for the starting job, emphatically proved why she was the correct decision to start by putting up 30-plus assists in all three matches, totaling 97 for the weekend.

“She definitely reinforced (my decision),” Hilbert said. “There was no doubt she was the more game-ready of the two of them, and she responded really well to coaching, which I really liked.”

It wasn’t all offense for the Rams as they held their opponents to a combined hitting percentage of .111 and totaled 35 blocks in three games.

“I thought (our defense) was good,” junior libero Izzy Gaulia said. “Some times were better than others, but we were able to pick a lot of things up.”

Gaulia was named to the all-tournament team after picking up double-digit digs in every match.
“My goal was to be relaxed and make good defensive moves,” she said.

After finishing up in Arkansas, the team drove from Fayetteville to Norman, Okla. for Monday night’s showdown with No. 16 Oklahoma. The Sooners come into the match fresh off a victory in the Nike Invitational, which they hosted.

“They will definitely be the best team we have played up to this point,” Hilbert, an Oklahoma alumni, said. “They play the game like we play, low error, they just play the game well. I expect it to be a hostile environment, it’s going be fun.”

Volleyball Beat Reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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