The Rams will hit the ground running in 2015 with expectations of a sixth consecutive Mountain West championship.
Colorado State head volleyball coach Tom Hilbert is hopeful that his team can continue its dominance in the conference despite the loss of three all-MW selections in Marlee Reynolds, Kelsey Snider, and Deedra Foss, as well as the departure of Kaitlind Bestgen, who led the team in service aces (40) in 2014 before deciding to forego her senior year of eligibility.
“We’re one of the best that we’ve ever been in the areas of ball handling, serve-receive and defense,” Hilbert said. “We’ve got experience in those positions, we’ve got great players in those positions.”
The coach said that he feels the defense is stronger than the attack at the moment, and acknowledged that roster depth is a concern for him.
“One of our biggest challenges is keeping everyone healthy because of the lack of depth in hitting positions,” Hilbert said. “So we’re trying to keep practices short but intense.”
The Rams are also in need of a setter after losing the 2014 MW Player of the Year in Foss.
Hilbert said he is toying with the idea of using a 6-2 rotation, in which two setters will rotate through the back row. It allows for most formations, other than dumps, and is typically used when the setters are also capable attackers.
As for who might play that role, Hilbert said there are currently up to four setters who could see action as he tries to determine what works best for the team.
Senior Adrianna Culbert could play as a setter/hitter, as could newcomer Julia Cubbedge. Redshirt junior Grace Gordon would play as a back row setter only. Senior Crystal Young could be a front row and back row setter.
“If we run a 5-1 (rotation), it’s likely to be with Crystal,” Hilbert said. “But Crystal may be only a back row setter in a 6-2.”
He added that if Culbert is involved, she could rotate through the front row as well.
The Rams bring on two freshmen by way of California in Katie Craig, a defensive specialist, and the aforementioned Cubbedge, a left-handed setter/hitter.
CSU also stocked up on some local talent. The team gains an outside hitter in senior transfer Alex Reid from Long Beach State, originally from Aurora. Defensive specialist Mariah Green, a Fort Collins product, joined the team as a walk-on in the spring.
Injuries are still limiting freshman Kirstie Hillyer (knee and shoulder) and sophomore Sanja Cizmic (high-ankle contusion). Freshman Jessica Jackson is recovering from a ruptured achilles and will take a medical redshirt, according to the coach.
Hilbert said that he believes the team will pride itself on defense. He said it plans to be a strong serving and serve-receiving team in order to spread the ball to different players.
Until the season starts, the focus will be on finding the right fit at setter and getting the attacking up to the same level of the defense.
“We just have to be more terminal,” Hilbert said. “I think if we’re able to terminate balls against our own defense, we’re going to be able to terminate balls against anybody’s defense.”
Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.