The No. 6 Colorado State volleyball team has hit the halfway point in the season holding strong at the top of the Mountain West Conference and in the national rankings.
The Rams started off the 2014 season favored to win the conference as well as being No.18 in the AVCA top-25 poll. At 20-1 overall and a perfect 8-0 record in league play, CSU is the only team in the nation to rank in the top 20 for all five statistical categories: hitting percentage, kills, assists, opponent hitting percentage and blocking.
“I think that offensively we have gotten better and I think that we have figured out some ways to use different people like Dri (Culbert) for example,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “I also think we have gotten better blocking and I think that we are preparing well for opponents.”
CSU has been on a consistent climb from the start of the season. With their victory over Air Force last week, the Rams became the first team in the NCAA to reach 20 victories this season while also increasing their win streak to 15. Other than the then No.4 Wisconsin Badgers, no team has been able to stop the Rams as they have only dropped five sets this entire season.
“So far we have been able to beat the people we are playing, ” Hilbert said. “We have our own ways to which we disrupt teams, but even if teams play well against us, they haven’t been able to run points on us. If a team is able to serve us out of what we want to do or block us out of what we want to do, then we will see what happens. So far people haven’t been able to do that.”
While it is easy to look ahead with the NCAA tournament just around the corner, CSU is focusing on taking it one game at a time. Up next on the schedule is Boise State Thursday and Utah State Saturday as the Rams return home after a tough road series last weekend.
CSU took down Boise and Utah State on the road in the first week of conference play just over a month ago. While the Rams rolled to a straight 3-0 sweep against the Broncos, the Aggies were able to take the third set against the Rams, forcing the match to four sets.
“We follow the same preparation routines, however, we look at how they are different,” Hilbert said. “So we pretend coming into each match that it is a completely new team.”
Heading into this weekend, Utah State is in the upper half of the conference for digs and opponent hitting while Boise’s offense has only continued to get better.
“Certainly Boise has improved, I have watched quite a bit of their film and they are a better team than they were when we played them earlier,” Hilbert said. “They have had a few good wins since then and their middle attackers and freshman outsider hitters are good.”
The Aggies are lead by outsider hitter Elle Brainard, who has been key to the Aggies success as the No. 1 blocker in the MW and fourth in the NCAA with 1.62 per set.
The Aggies are one of five teams this year to take a set from CSU, while they also outblocked the Rams 19.5 to 13.0, though CSU was able to hold on with four players racking up 10-plus digs in addition to four players having eight kills or more.
Hilbert mentioned that his team is working on its side-out at this point in the season more than they ever do. By working on this CSU is able to come up with new tricks and keep its opponents on their toes when they face off in the second round of conference play.
“Obviously we love Moby and hopefully we will get a good crowd for those,” senior middle blocker Kelsey Snider said. “I really think we are getting there on our blocking and we continue to make ourselves better for each match we play.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @haleighhamblin.