Dec 042011
 
Authors: Kyle Grabowski

This season ended much the same as 2010 for the CSU volleyball team—on the home floor of a top-5 team following a brutal five set victory in the first round.

The Rams lost 3-1 to Hawaii in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, dropping the last three sets after winning the first 25-22.

“We had lost a little bit of focus, energy, and aggressiveness,” CSU coach Tom Hilbert said. “The first two sets, I felt as good as I’ve felt in an NCAA Tournament game. The last two we just lost some of our mojo.”

Last year CSU was swept by Stanford in the second round following a thrilling comeback against Cal State Fullerton, but Hilbert insists the differences were night and day.

“We could win this match, and I wouldn’t have said that about Stanford last year,” he said. “With Stanford we were just hanging on and they destroyed us in the last two.”

After that match last season the Rams lost four seniors to graduation and had all-conference setter Evan Sanders transfer to Washington. Expectations, while still high, were not as lofty as in the previous season. CSU responded, however, with one of its best seasons in recent memory.

The Rams finished the season 24-6 while capturing their third straight Mountain West championship, winning both the regular season and tournament crowns.

“I’m proud of what this team has accomplished. It’s definitely the best team CSU has seen in a long time,” senior outside hitter Katelyn Steffan said.

Steffan easily had her best season as a CSU Ram, winning the MW Player of the Year this season, developing into the Rams’ go-to attacker, as well as being a senior leader after moving from the opposite hitter position to the outside.

“Everyone’s crazy appreciative of Kate and what she’s done for this team, and the fact that she completely took on a new role and put us all on her back and pulled us through this season,” said junior outside hitter Dana Cranston.

In general the team has come a long way from where they were last spring when they lost to Chinese professional team Tianjin Bridgestone in a spring exhibition match.

“We grew into who we were going to be,” Cranston said. “We understood that we needed to be low-error, and we really took that on and took it seriously and made it who we were. I think that was something really special you don’t see from a lot of teams.”

Next year CSU will return its entire roster except Steffan, who will be graduating.

“We’ve got to develop more tempo on offense and continue to stay with it, but I believe we’re a great blocking team still,” Hilbert said. “That’s a strength of ours, and we’re going to continue to leverage it.”

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

Senior Kate Steffan – “We had the regular season championship. And going into the tournament, instead of letting down like we could have, we sealed the deal—and of course the win over Nebraska.”

Junior Dana Cranston – “The blatant one would be to say Nebraska, but the coolest thing about this year is looking at where we’ve come from last spring to right now.”

Coach Tom Hilbert – “The Nebraska match was obviously very big for us, and also (Thursday night’s win over Oregon in the first round) was a heck of a memory. That was a great event for us.”

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