A clean start. A fresh slate. A new season.
The CSU volleyball team begins a new season with the beginning of Mountain West Conference play tonight against Fresno State.
The Rams, (6-5) who have gone 91-14 since the start of the 2013 season, lost more matches in the nonconference portion of their 2016 schedule than they are accustomed to. But with that part of the schedule now in their rearview mirror, the conference season offers a chance to start off the conference season on the right note.
“Every one of these matches is very important,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “They all count the same, it doesn’t matter how good or how bad the team is. We need to mathematically be the best team in the Mountain West conference. What does that mean? Number one we got to win our home games. I think we have to beat everybody at home. We got to play consistently on the road and win the games we’re supposed to win and then maybe sneak one or two against the good teams.”
During non-conference play the Rams played stout competition. CSU lost what was a competitive 3-0 match at home to No. 5 Texas (25-20, 25-23, 25-23) on Sept. 9 and suffered a 3-1 setback to No. 16 Colorado last Saturday. The Rams also lost a five set match to Pittsburgh, an ACC team who is currently 9-3 and just missed out on the NCAA tournament a year ago.
The competition, in addition to the Rams breaking in seven new players this season has presented its share of growing pains. But the goal is that along with the growing there has also been a lot of learning too.
“Even from our first game to the last just playing at the college level I got more of a feel for it and the tempo,” freshman Katie Oleksak said. “I think playing those bigger teams we grew as a team even though we did lose. From those losses we had to rebound and that helped us grow. Right now we’re just focusing on slowly growing every day.”
This being said, Texas doesn’t play in the MW, nor does CU. And there likely is not a MW team that is of the same caliber as what the Rams have seen so far. For that reason, CSU is only worried about themselves for now.
“We’re focusing on our side,” Oleksak said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is we need to stay consistent with how we play, the tempo of our ball, making our serves. Controlling the controllables, which is our side is key to being successful.”
And being the best team in the MW again this year would mean an eighth consecutive conference champion for the Rams. And it may not be easy, perhaps more difficult than last year or the year before, but that would just make eight in a row all the more special.
“I didn’t realize it the last few years how awesome that can be (winning the MW title) and this year knowing how challenging this conference is going to be,” middle blocker Alexandra Poletto said. “And then knowing how well we have to play consistently, winning this conference would mean a lot.”
The conference presents a few challenges this year. Boise State was picked to finish in second behind the Rams in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Broncos are 9-4 and feature one of the conference’s best players in Sierra Nobley. And UNLV has been off to a surprisingly hot 11-1 start to the season and has an RPI of 21. CSU has been tested so far, and what they learned is yet to be determined as they start their new season tonight against Fresno State.
“We played two teams that are better than anybody in our conference and the other three are as good as the top teams, maybe better,” Hilbert said. “I think we did get tested. We know what we have to do to be good and now we have to go execute it.”
Katie Craig leaves team- Sophomore defensive specialist Katie Craig left the team due to “personal reasons” head coach Tom Hilbert confirmed Monday. Craig, who is from Newport Beach, Calif., played sparingly as a freshman last year, appearing in 17 matches. She made a career high four digs last year against Arizona State.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley