The No. 12 Colorado State Rams will take its 20-game winning streak on the road to Palo Alto, California Thursday to take on Loyola Marymount in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament. The match will begin at 5:30 p.m. MT.
Eighth-seeded Stanford will play New Mexico State in first round action Thursday as well, with the winner squaring off with the winner of CSU and LMU.
Loyola Marymount, representing the West Coast Conference, finished the regular season with a record of 22-8 and ranked 29th in the final RPI. The only common opponent between CSU and LMU is San Diego State, whom both teams swept this season. According to CSU coach Tom Hilbert, LMU matches up well with his squad and presents many similarities to the Rams.
“I think it’s a good draw,” Hilbert said. “They play the same brand of volleyball as we do. They are about on the same level of athleticism as we are.”
LMU comes in as an unfamiliar opponent for CSU. The Lions finished 13-5 in WCC play and own wins over Pac-12 member UCLA who is seeded 14th in the tournament field. LMU also split their season series with BYU who earned a No. 13 seed. Not being familiar with the opponent is not necessarily a bad thing for CSU, though, as it allows them to focus on their own game rather than paying too much attention to the opponent.
“I think that’s almost better sometimes,” sophomore middle blocker Alexandra Poletto said. “You just go out there and do your job and not really worry about what they’re doing as much. You just make your game as good as it can be and see how they respond.”
Last season, CSU enjoyed home-court advantage while hosting the first- and second-round games that included a dramatic victory over in-state rival CU and an eventual birth in the Sweet 16. This year, CSU will be on the road and face LMU on a neutral court with a potential away game against Stanford looming. However, the change of environment is not something the Rams are concerned about.
“Playing on a neutral court is never a bad thing,” senior libero Jaime Colaizzi said. “No team really has an edge going into it. We seem to have a really great durability when we’re on the road. As long as we stay in it mentally, I think we’ll be just fine.”
CSU is coming off of a huge win over Iowa State Nov. 28 that aided in the Rams’ preparation for the tournament.
“I thought our match against Iowa State was great preparation,” Hilbert said. “I can’t imagine (after) playing that match the way we did, that we’re not going to be ready to play on Thursday. We can’t control what Loyola Marrymount does. We can only control us, and we’ll play well.”
CSU was also the only team from the Mountain West to be selected to the 64-team tournament field.
Riding 20 consecutive victories and an undefeated run in conference play (18-0) has set the confidence level of the team high. The Rams have also gone to five sets and won in their last two matches against Wyoming and Iowa State, which, according to Poletto, has been beneficial.
“Our confidence has definitely grown,” Poletto said. “Especially with these last two wins. Those are awesome games. Winning in five is a great way to build our confidence.”
CSU will play Loyola Marymount Thursday at 5:30 p.m. MT on the campus of Stanford. With a first-round win, CSU would play in the second round on Friday.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley.