Attendance, tradition of success go hand-in-hand for CSU volleyball

Michael Roley

Over the past two decades, the CSU volleyball team has proven that home court advantage is very much a real thing.

The Rams have gone an astounding 275-33 at Moby Arena during head coach Tom Hilbert’s 20-year tenure, including four undefeated seasons in 1999, 2001, 2007, and 2008. Under Hilbert, CSU is an unblemished 45-0 against the state’s four other Division I programs at home. From 2011-2014 the Rams ranked fifth in the nation with a .933 winning percentage.

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All while CSU has dominated its opponents on their home floor, people have shown up in sizable quantities to witness it.

Currently, CSU ranks fifth in the nation in average home attendance at 2,954 per match and been in the top 25 in average attendance every single season since the NCAA began tracking attendance figures in 1986.

On Sept. 9 CSU played No. 5 Texas in front of 6,253 fans, the fifth highest attended match in Moby Arena history. The highest attended match occurred in 2014, when CSU hosted Wisconsin with a record 7,018 people in attendance.

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CSU Students welcome the Woman's Volleyball Team to the court against the University of Texas. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

A correlation exists between a sustained tradition of winning and high attendance numbers. Although winning and the on-court product is a major factor, getting people in seats is more than that.

“We have always had a philosophy here where we go into the community and build bridges,” Hilbert said. “We make friends and people get to know our athletes. If you do that enough you’re going to get people to come to your games and if you’re successful and put a good product out on the court that they like then they’ll come back.”

The volleyball team didn’t just show up one night for a match and several thousand people had magically appeared, it has been a long process that has taken time and involved trying to engage new students at orientation during the early weeks of school, and revamping a season ticket sales plan back in 1999 that has grown annually from about 135 season ticket sales to 1300 this year, according to Hilbert.

“It’s over time,” Hilbert said. “It’s not just thing that happens and all of a sudden we have a million people here.”

One of the strategies that players have employed this year is to foster new relationships with CSU’s newest students, who also live closest to Moby.

“Right now we’re doing this thing with the dorms to get freshmen involved,” middle blocker Alexandra Poletto said. “It’s like ‘Adopt-A-Dorm.’ Each of us has a specific dorm where we go to talk to them, hang out, make posters, and try to get them to come to our games.”

The words “home court advantage” are tossed around a lot in the world of college sports. And CSU certainly has one of the better advantages in the nation. But this advantage might be a true advantage for CSU’s players, instead of a disadvantage for opposing players.

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“A lot of people think it’s the intimidation factor to the opponents,” Hilbert said. “I don’t think that it’s that big of a deal here because it’s a big place. But what it really does is give great energy to our team. When your team plays with energy they play freer and they do a better job.”

“It’s so energizing,”Poletto said. “That was one of the main reasons I choose to come here. The support here is outstanding and you can’t find it in a lot of other places. It’s fun to get a kill and look back and see everyone cheering. It really helps honestly.”

Moby Magic, as some of the players refer to the atmosphere at Moby as, is not just an experience for current players and fans, but also a major attraction for prospective players.

“It was a huge draw,” freshman Katie Oleksak said. “With my club I’m used to a lot of people supporting us so I sort of wanted a college atmosphere like that… It just makes it so much easier to play when people are supporting you.”

Playing home matches against teams such as Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin attract a lot of interest and help get butts in seats. But these top tier programs also want to come and play a high quality program like CSU, in a hostile environment that will test them as a team. And Hilbert, who has won a lot of matches at CSU — 494 to be exact — and numerous conference championships is more proud of that than anything.

“I’ve had teams from everywhere, the Big-10, the Pac-12 conference tell me ‘Hey this place is as good an environment as any place we’ve seen in the United States.’” Hilbert said. “Those are things I’m proud of. I’m as proud of that as I am of winning titles. Because I think that’s really growing the sport. I love this sport and I think it’s a sport that should be a mainstream sport and not just a niche sport…We got a country that loves this sport and it’s growing. We need to invest in the collegiate programs and it will pay off.”

Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @michael_roley