New faces in different places didnâ€™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.
â€œIâ€™m pleased and surprised that we played as cleanly as we did,â€ coach Tom Hilbert said. â€œWe played as close to flawlessly as we could play.â€
Despite the sweeps, it wasnâ€™t complete domination by CSU. Middle Tennessee State pushed the Rams
near the end of the third set, but couldnâ€™t make the necessary breakthrough.
â€œWinning the tight sets was the best part about it,â€ Hilbert said. â€œWe did the right things at the right time. I donâ€™t think we were dominant, but we played the game the right way.â€
The Ramsâ€™ 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.
â€œPlayers were taking control of what they were doing and not making mistakes,â€ 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.
â€œShe was great,â€ Hilbert said. â€œBut I need to be careful not to expect her to be the answer in every match for us because Iâ€™m not sure if sheâ€™s ready for that. But this weekend she was doing everything right.â€
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.
â€œShe definitely reinforced (my decision),â€ Hilbert said. â€œThere 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.â€
It wasnâ€™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.
â€œI thought (our defense) was good,â€ junior libero Izzy Gaulia said. â€œSome times were better than others, but we were able to pick a lot of things up.â€
Gaulia was named to the all-tournament team after picking up double-digit digs in every match.
â€œMy goal was to be relaxed and make good defensive moves,â€ she said.
After finishing up in Arkansas, the team drove from Fayetteville to Norman, Okla. for Monday nightâ€™s showdown with No. 16 Oklahoma. The Sooners come into the match fresh off a victory in the Nike Invitational, which they hosted.
â€œThey will definitely be the best team we have played up to this point,â€ Hilbert, an Oklahoma alumni, said. â€œThey play the game like we play, low error, they just play the game well. I expect it to be a hostile environment, itâ€™s going be fun.â€
Volleyball Beat Reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com.