This game had been looming on the schedule for months with anticipation high, and the interest even greater.
The Texas Longhorns were coming to Moby Arena.
And on Friday night there they were, coming off a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA tournament and ranked third in the country.
The Longhorns looked every bit the part Friday night, sweeping Colorado State (25-20, 25-23, 25-23) in front of 6,253 at Moby Arena, the fifth highest attended game in CSU volleyball history.
It was also the marquee match up of the year for the Rams.
CSU (4-4, 0-0 MW) held their own with Texas (6-1, 0-0 Big 12). In total the match featured 24 ties and eight lead changes. The Rams held leads at several junctures, including a 17-12 advantage in the third set before the Longhorns would rally for five straight points to tie it at 17. Texas then scored 13 of the match’s final 19 points to seal the victory.
“They’re a hard team to stop,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “I thought we would have more advantages in long rallies in this match….I think my team had fun,I think we were close in two sets. We did some pretty good things in the last two sets especially with our point scoring and serving being tougher and getting some blocks. That’s a team (Texas) I think that a couple years from now this young team (CSU) beats.”
Jasmine Hanna led the way for the Rams with 11 kills and Kirstie Hillyer contributed seven more to go along with four block assists and one solo block.
CSU has now lost their fourth consecutive match, an unfamiliar position for a program that has a cumulative record to date of 89-13, dating back to the beginning of 2013. The team is in a bit of lull at the moment, as the loss to Texas marks the third consecutive match the Rams have been swept in.
But going toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best should only increase their confidence going forward.
“I think more than anything it’s a confidence booster for us,” Hanna said. “We just competed with one of the best teams in the nation and we hung in there the whole time. This gives us confidence continuing on.”
From an attacking standpoint, the Longhorns looked to have a huge edge in the first set. Texas hit .429 in the set while the Rams struggled, hitting at a .097 clip. Hillyer was in on three blocks in the set while Texas struggled to serve it in-bounds with five service errors.
CSU battled admirably the rest of the match, fighting back from a 22-17 deficit in the second set to deadlock it at 23 before two Longhorn kills from Macaya White and Paulina Prieto Cerame ended it.
In the third stanza CSU jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead before Texas rallied back with five straight points to gain a 5-4 advantage. Later on CSU took a 17-12 lead before Texas once again climbed their way back and knotted the set at 18. The Longhorns would eventually close out the sweep by a score of 25-23.
It was a big game for CSU. But throughout the match the Rams never seem rattled. They were upbeat and loose after scoring points. Friday’s stage against a top-level team didn’t appear too large for this young, freshman-heavy squad.
“There was a lot of maturity tonight,” Hillyer said. “That was really cool to see everybody come together.”
Friday night’s crowd was large and made their presence known at several points throughout the match. The atmosphere was a player’s dream to play in, and regardless of the outcome, a memory that players can cherish and enjoy forever.
“It’s unreal,” Hanna said. “I love it (the atmosphere). This is why I came to Colorado State and this is why I’m playing volleyball- for moments like these that I can remember for the rest of my life.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley