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CSU volleyball kicks off preseason in paradise

The+Colorado+State+volleyball+team+cheers+for+each+other+after+scoring+a+point+against+the+US+Air+Force+Academy+Nov.+18.
Collegian | Avery Coates
Colorado State University volleyball team members cheer for each other after scoring a point against the U.S. Air Force Academy Nov. 18, 2023. CSU beat USAFA in a 3-0 sweep.

When Kate Yoshimoto arrived at Colorado State in 2021, coach Emily Kohan promised the libero the team will make the journey to play in her home state of Hawaii.

For years, the logistics never quite worked out. Seasons passed without Yoshimoto being able to play in front of her loved ones.

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However, just before the team left for winter break in December 2023, good news came: With the help of donors and fundraising, the CSU volleyball team would travel to Hawaii over spring break to begin their spring preseason training.

“I found out probably right before I went home for winter break,” Yoshimoto said. “I was just so ecstatic because my family hasn’t been able to see me play since probably before COVID.”

For the libero, returning home meant being able to play in front of those who have supported her since childhood.

“Being able to have the experience of melding, like, a vacation mode and a volleyball mode was something that was super cool because we’ve never done that before.” -Naeemah Weathers, middle blocker

Not only did Yoshimoto get to play in front of her family for the first time in years, but she also got to play in a venue she grew up watching the Hawaii volleyball team play in — a venue where she grew to love volleyball.

“I’ve grown up watching the (Hawaii Rainbow Wahine women’s volleyball team) play in the Stan Sheriff (Center),” Yoshimoto said. “It was such a surreal experience to be able to play in there myself.”

Yoshimoto, along with other Hawaiian players Kekua Richards and Jazen DeBina, was given the opportunity to share her culture and homeland with the team.

That opportunity was immensely impactful to the team, allowing them to combine working on their craft and a team bonding vacation.

“I think it was one of the most incredible team bonding trips that I’ve ever been on,” Kohan said. “It was really cool to have the three Hawaiians and their families immerse us in their culture.”

While the spring preseason certainly involves hard work to prepare for the fall, an even larger part of the preseason revolves around team bonding.

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Graduate student and middle blocker Naeemah Weathers emphasized the importance of their trip to Hawaii in allowing the squad to grow closer.

“Being able to have the experience of melding, like, a vacation mode and a volleyball mode was something that was super cool because we’ve never done that before,” Weathers said. “We got to do things like snorkeling, … (and) a lot of people on the team might not know that, like, I can’t swim, and they all got to learn that.”

Swimming abilities aside, Weathers and her team used these activities to grow closer as a unit prior to their preseason matchup against Hawaii.

For Richards, one of these activities held a special nostalgic importance: The team had the opportunity to hold a kids’ volleyball clinic at her alma mater, Seabury Hall.

Richards said she was grateful for the opportunity to return home and share new aspects of her life with her teammates.

“It was super awesome and amazing to be able to bring my team to fully experience where I’m from and my culture because it’s very different from the mainland,” Richards said.

For three new members of the green and gold — Aine Doty, Brielle Warren and Jordyn Tynsky — this preseason in paradise was their first time suiting up in a game for the Rams.

Kohan said that while not all of the incoming Rams were able to come, the three who did were able to integrate with the team’s culture in a comfortable environment.

“Compared to last year’s roster, we’re going to have seven new people right now on the 2024 roster,” Kohan said. “Three of them were with us for this spring training trip, (which) kind of gradually assimilates the new people into our program. It was fun to see them fit in and begin the team bonding part of that before four more newbies join us in the summer.”

In addition to seeing some fresh faces on the court, the team’s game against Hawaii was Kohan’s first time coaching the Rams under the NCAA’s new rule change to allow double contacts and two liberos per set.

How will Kohan use this new rule change? Even she isn’t quite sure yet. The coach said she’s grateful for these spring games, as they’re giving her the chance to experiment with something new.

“I think the two-libero rule is the one rule that is incredibly impactful that we’re not quite sure how to use it with our current team,” Kohan said. “But we are using spring to experiment with how you use that and what best serves our team with that. It’s a big rule change.”

The CSU volleyball team will play four more preseason games this spring. The Rams will face off against Wyoming and Colorado twice April 6 at Northern Colorado and April 20 at CU.

“I think Hawaii started us off on a good foot,” Yoshimoto said. “I think we’re just going to go up from here and be able to learn what we need to do to be ready for the fall season.”

Reach Will Engle at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @willengle44.

Interested in more sports content? Sign up for Ram Report here for weekly CSU sports updates!

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