With a historical 2013 season in the books for the Rams, CSU is back on the court preparing for another season of competitive volleyball against some of the top teams in the country.
Along with New Mexico State, Utah State and San Diego State as its toughest competition in the Mountain West Conference, the Rams will take on last season’s NCAA runner-up Wisconsin, ranked No.6 in the preseason poll. Along with hosting the Badgers, as well as Marquette and UC Santa Barbara, CSU will travel to face No. 9 BYU, Arizona State and perennial contender Pepperdine. Overall, the Rams’ 2014 schedule has six opponents ranked or receiving votes in the top-25 preseason poll.
“This is one of the tougher schedules that we’ve ever had. Marquette and Santa Barbara are both very good teams who didn’t lose a whole lot from last year and were NCAA tournament-caliber teams,” head coach Tom Hilbert said.
Last season CSU began by winning 28 consecutive games, while earning the longest win streak in program history and its fifth-consecutive Mountain West Conference title. The Rams are favored to win their sixth title this season after being picked first yet again by the league’s coaches last week.
“I’m happy. That shows respect for our program,” Hilbert said. “We have to go out and prove it now.”
Along with eight players returning who saw considerable game action last season, the Rams added five new faces to the 2014 line-up.
Alexandra Poletto is expected to take the court early into her career with a silver medal under her belt from the Leaside Volleyball Club at U17 Ontario Provincials at Canadian Nationals. Poletto is known for her outside game, earning a gold medal at the U21 Canadian Beach Nationals in 2012-13, and she expects her experience with sand volleyball will help her blocking.
Sanja Cizmic comes all the way from Split, Croatia with all-conference honors where her team won the 2013-14 HRV National Cup. She will compete in the 2014 European Cup and be a strong candidate for a starting position.
The Rams have two transfer students this year, Grace Gordon, a walk-on transfer who began her career at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs and Crystal Young who came to Fort Collins by way of Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas.
Gordon started in 25 matches last season and averaged 9.57 assists per set and ranked third on the team with 2.39 digs. Gordon graduated from Grandview High School in Aurora where she earned a state runner-up finish in 2011.
Young helped Blinn to a 39-3 record and an NJCAA national championship in 2013, while being named the conference’s setter of the year after setting a single-season record with 1,546 assists and 10.96 per set.
Joining the Rams from the prep ranks is Jasmine Hanna, a native of Queen Creek, Arizona, who was named a 2013-14 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American. Hanna was also selected to the Arizona all-state team three times.
While it is expected for Kelsey Snider to start at middle blocker, Deedra Foss at setter, Adrianna Culbert at either outside hitting position, and Jamie Colaizzi in the libero spot, there are still several unanswered questions about the other outside hitting position and second middle blocker.
“Every one of the incoming freshmen is being looked at right now. It’s way too early to tell what the decision is going to be with those guys,” Hilbert said. “I think Jaliyah (Bolden) is also an unanswered question. Really, we’ll see. I haven’t talked very much about Acacia Andrews, because I think she’s pretty good, and I think she’s earned the right to be an expected starter, but she’ll still be evaluated statistically against everybody else, as will every player.”
With less than a week before the first serve of the season, Hilbert and the Rams have a lot of decisions to make.
CSU will take the court August 30th for a double header against VCU at 1 p.m. and UC Santa Barabara at 7 p.m., followed by Marquette Sunday at 1 p.m. The home opener is part of the Rams Volleyball Classic presented by UCHealth. Student tickets are available at the Fum McGraw Athletic Center near Moby Arena.
Collegian Sports Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @haleighhamblin.