Colorado State volleyball enjoys home-court advantage like few others

Mack Beaulieu

After years of being the Mountain West’s best team and one of the nation’s most consistent programs, it makes sense the Colorado State Rams are one of the nation’s most watched teams.

But, that is not always a given in college volleyball. The Rams are defying the odds with a team that has the No. 2 ranked attendance in the country.

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The Rams have long enjoyed a home-court advantage that tops most of their foes, but this year has a chance to be their best, after topping out as the sixth-most attended volleyball home court back in 2014. The team’s string of success, an open and vibrant Fort Collins’ community and invested members of CSU volleyball help make it all possible.

“It’s just kind of, not like another high school match,” Oleksak said.

“It has to do with the fact that we’ve been winning on a consistent basis.” coach Tom Hilbert said. “It has to do with the size of the community and how reachable everybody is. This is a community where people are looking for things to do. This is a community where you can get out and meet people. I don’t know if that’s usually the case.”

Hilbert and the players help take the lead in community involvement with events like Hilbert’s Happy Hour, hosted at the Mayor of Old town every Wednesday, as well as interacting with booster clubs, providing free volleyball clinics and being open to the public.

“The players are the best advocates for themselves,” CSU assistant director of marketing Brynne Davis said. “Everybody likes peer to peer marketing and they feel a special connection when (someone with the program) invites them out to the game.”

Building relationships with the people of Fort Collins had played right into the philosophy that Hilbert has embraced over his twenty-plus years of service to the Rams’ volleyball team. 

“It is a lot of work,” Hilbert said. “It’s a work over time and it’s a constant work in progress because the most important aspect of what we’ve done in our community attendance is basically relationship building.”

That long-term approach could be key in helping the Rams remain a storied program, as the Rams inspire younger girls in the local area and give other players a reason to keep coming to CSU.

“We did a free kids clinic down in Old Town,” Oleksak said. “We’re like ‘hey come to our games,’ and a bunch of them showed up… It’s definitely one of the reasons I chose CSU. We play these teams and there aren’t nearly as many people so it makes a big difference.”

That work has paid off, as the Rams have about 1400 season ticket holders according to Hilbert. Many of them belong to local families.

That number alone would be good enough to put the Rams ahead of about two-thirds of other schools’ attendance, but there are many more people at Rams’ volleyball that help make nights like last week’s record-breaking attempt at a sell-out.

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There’s little doubt that the Rams’ opponents notice the overwhelming crowd. The No. 12 ranked Illini, took time to notice the Rams crowd, being one of the many bigger schools that can’t pull in as large of a crowd as the Rams.

“When the crowd is large, it honestly gets in the head of the other team,” junior Jessica Jackson said. “We’ll go to other schools and they barely have 15, 20 people in the crowd. It’s just like we’re so lucky and so blessed to be able to play here and play in front of such a huge Rams’ fanbase.”

The Rams will get another chance to boost that attendance this weekend as they take on three of their most competitive opponents in Florida State University, Texas-Christian University and the University of Cincinnati.

While fans will not be treated to any big promotions this week, because of the strength of their opponents, the team will be available immediately after the game for fan interaction.

Some promotions the Rams will be using to increase attendance later in the year include a Halloween-themed Border War, an orange out weekend in September and a 90’s day against the Air Force Academy, all in order to give fans a one-of-a-kind experience.

Mack Beaulieu is a reporter for the Collegian who can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on twitter @Macknz_James