CSU volleyball begins its conference schedule this week following a 10-2 start in the non-conference portion of its schedule.
Coming off a loss to their rival, the University of Colorado, the Rams bring new lessons to the table, and look to capitalize on a loss, rather than dwell on what could have been.
“You do not ever want to lose,” Jasmine Hanna said. “But loses are teaching moments so it is not the worst thing, we are going to recover and be better.”
The first game of the Rams’ opening weekend in conference is against the University of New Mexico on Thursday. The Lobos present an instant challenge for the Rams as they enter Mountain West play with the third best record in non-conference.
The Lobos are led by sophomore outside hitter Lauren Twitty and junior middle blocker Mariessa Carrasco. Twitty leads in overall kills (142) while Carrasco leads the team in hitting percentage (.354). The Rams front line will be tested early and often by the power of the Lobos hitters, and will have to again fill the void left by Kirstie Hillyer who is still recovering from a knee injury she suffered in CSU’s sweep over Florida State.
Fortunately for the Rams, Alexandra Poletto is working her way back to full speed and will be available for their matches this weekend. Though she will be available, the team is still enforcing a set limit for Poletto that will hold her from participating fully in their upcoming conference schedule. In her stead, Paulina Hougaard-Jensen has actively stepped up for the Rams and been one of their best players to this point in the season.
Despite a rash of injuries to begin the year, the Rams battled a tough non-conference schedule and came out with just a pair of loses. The challenging schedule gave the Rams a chance to improve against competition they are unfamiliar with, and improve their defense as part of a season-long goal posed by coach Tom Hilbert.
“We have gotten better (defensively),” Hilbert said. “We are better now and digging and controlling balls. We are just better on defense and we are a little better on serve receive.”
In the toughest part of their schedule, the Rams will face a new challenge: familiarity. Getting in their conference schedule, the teams they will play have extra intel as well as further analytics. With a target on their backs, the Rams will face each team’s best effort and the responsibility of not taking a night off has been hoisted onto the shoulders of Hilbert. Each team will know the Rams’ weaknesses and look to exploit them in a way out-of-conference opponents are unable to do.
“That is my job as a coach,” Hilbert said. “Make sure they are prepared and it is done by telling them, ‘Look, everyone brings their A-game to play us in this league.’ So they are going to play well and they all know us really well so tactically they will know how to win against us.”
The latter match of the opening weekend welcomes the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to Moby Arena Saturday as the Rebels come in to town losers of five straight (pending their match against Wyoming in Laramie on Thursday). A team largely dominated by freshmen, the Rebels resemble the youth that the Rams have and will test the Rams’ ability to not overlook an opponent, especially in conference.
“We did a really good job of (not overlooking teams) in the preseason,” Katie Oleksak said. “Just kind of playing the same on our side, and not really caring about who is on the other side.”
The matches offer an opportunity for Sanja Cizmic to continue her hot streak that included setting a personal best in kills against Xavier (21). Despite winning early awards, Cizmic has continued to improve and set new highs for herself. The senior led the Rams to wins over higher competition in Michigan and Florida State without lowering her level of play to match teams like Albany and Xavier.
Travel for the Rams will be light in the first two weeks of their conference schedule as they only travel to the Air Force Academy and Wyoming in September. The Rams have only suffered a single loss at home and will look to capitalize and create momentum in their opening weekend.
New Mexico comes to Moby Thursday at 7 p.m. while UNLV will be hosted on Saturday at 1 p.m. Currently sporting one of the largest attendance rates in the country, Moby Madness will be in full effect in the dawning of another rigorous conference schedule.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.