Sep 012011
 
Authors: Kyle Grabowski

Scheduling tough opponents to prepare his team for postseason play has been a hallmark of CSU volleyball head coach Tom Hilbert’s tenure, and this season is no different.

The Rams opened the season with four games in four days on the road, going 3-1 in that span. They now return home to Moby Arena for the first time tonight, with No. 5 Nebraska waiting for them.

“We want to have a run in the NCAA tournament and we want to win our conference and you best prepare yourself for that by playing good competition,” Hilbert said. “There are no easy teams on our non-conference schedule and that’s by design.”

Hilbert primarily picks out opponents for the non-conference schedule, but does not have complete control over it.

“It is me, but some things are in play. Number one, it’s who’s willing to come here,” he said. “And number two, we have to return. That Arkansas tournament was a return from two years ago. We don’t get to pick an Arkansas tournament.”

The primary benefit of playing so many good teams so early, Hilbert said, is to see athleticism and speed at a very high level so they are used to it by the time the conference schedule starts later in September.

“Playing big, physical teams like us is more fun and competitive,” senior opposite hitter Kaetlyn Steffan said. “They point out our flaws and what we need to work on.”

With all of CSU’s relative inexperience, the tough schedule provides a fast track to becoming a better team. Redshirt freshman setter Deedra Foss is one of several Rams players who has quickly had to learn to play well for the team to be successful

“It makes us better right away and it challenges us,” Foss said. “Rather than going out and playing easy games we know we’re going to win, we have to step up our game and play better.”

Hilbert said that there aren’t any detriments to playing so many good teams in a row, but players said that having so many games back-to-back wore on them physically. The Rams returned home Tuesday after an extended road trip, which began Thursday when they left for the Arkansas invitational.

“Just coming back home I think all of our bodies are trying to catch up and recover,” Steffan said.
So far the experience of a tough schedule has been a positive one for the Rams.

“We learned the importance of tempo and having good tempo and passing,” Foss said. The CSU offense functions better when all of the passes are on time and accurate, because it allows them to attack sooner, sometimes before the opposing block has a chance to set up.

“We’re doing things well, we’re going to have to learn from last Friday and Saturday, and next weekend we’ve got three more good teams coming in here, there’s no rest for this crew,” Hilbert said. “By the time we hit Mountain West play we’ll know what it’s like to play good teams.”

Volleyball beat reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

CSU volleyball’s upcoming non-conference opponents:

9/2: #5 Nebraska
9/3: Albany
9/8: Nova KBM Maribor
(Slovenian professional team)
9/9: Wichita State
9/10: Northern Colorado
9/16:Denver
10/6: Seattle University
11/26: New Mexico State

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