Aug. 27, 2011
By Nic Hallisey
Athletic Media Relations
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.--For the second consecutive day, the Colorado State volleyball team disproved notions that it's too young and too inexperienced, as the No. 15 Rams swept their competition, this time against Middle Tennessee State, Saturday afternoon at Barnhill Arena in the Arkansas Invitational.
After Friday night's season-opening win over Arkansas, Colorado State Head Coach Tom Hilbert said that he liked what he saw out of the attacking, but that he wanted to see junior opposite hitter Dana Cranston involved more. It only took one match for Hilbert to see results, as Cranston led the Rams (2-0) to the three-set triumph over a team that took them to five sets in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
"We played exceptionally well in the first two games," Hilbert said. "Again, it's blowing me away how mature and how clean and mistake-free we're playing."
Cranston hit .333 on the day, recording 10 kills and zero errors in the win.
"Tom has told me in the past to hit harder, but recently he's been telling me to hit higher," Cranston said. "I think that's really helping me a lot. I see the court a lot better, and hitting higher doesn't make me have to hit a lot harder; it just lets me see the shot better."
As a team, the Rams were very effective on the offensive end, recording 42 kills and nine errors, including just three errors through the first two sets.
The Blue Raiders recorded more kills, assists and digs than the Rams, but CSU out-blocked MT, and was far more efficient overall.
"Middle Tennessee State's a great team, and we really didn't have much time to scout them since we played Arkansas last night," Cranston said. "Our team was really calm and we communicated really well, and this win gives us a lot of confidence; they're a very good team."
The first set featured 11 ties and five lead changes, with neither team able to score more than three consecutive points until the Rams rattled off a trio to force an MT timeout, and then added a pair of points after the break. The rally began with a Deedra Foss kill and ended with back-to-back blocks by junior Megan Plourde and Cranston. The Rams put the set away a few plays later, getting consecutive kills from junior Brieon Paige and Plourde, and a solo block from senior Katelyn Steffan. MT had 15 kills in the set, but hit just .116 thanks to CSU's six blocks. On the day, Plourde led the Rams with eight blocks, while Steffan was the team leader in kills, with 12.
Cranston gave the Rams a 6-5 lead in the second set when she dove to save an MT attack. The ball returned so hard off Cranston's forearm that it went over the net and fell between a group of Blue Raider players. Cranston had four kills in the second frame, including a great attack after a long rally to knot the score at 9-9. In the set, the Rams hit .368, including 15 kills and just one error.
"Dana made a great adjustment, and played very well today," Hilbert said. "I was very pleased about that; she adds a great deal. (Kelsey) Snider was good today, too. We had five legitimate weapons today, which is really good stuff."
In the third set, the Rams tallied eight of nine points, including three in a row from Plourde, to take a 10-4 lead. MT, though, got back in the set with a 14-9 run to tie the score at 23-23. But CSU was able to finish on a strong note, including a match-ending block by Plourde and Foss, to take the sweep.
"We blocked well," Hilbert said of his team's 12.5 blocks. "We got one-on-one blocks, which means our athletes were prepared. This is a very difficult offense to play against, and we really didn't look at their film until today. Middle Tennessee is a very strong team but it was a really, really good performance by our kids."
The Rams will be back in action later Saturday afternoon, as they take on the McNeese State Cowgirls at 4 p.m. MT, their final match of the Arkansas Invitational.
Tough schedule: Middle Tennessee State is the first of three teams that was in last season's NCAA tournament that CSU will play in the next week. The Blue Raiders have competed in the postseason in five straight years and were picked as co-favorites to win the Sun Belt in 2011. CSU will also play at Oklahoma on Monday and host Nebraska on Friday.
CSU is now 3-0 vs. the Blue Raiders all-time, also beating them 3-0 in 1998, and 3-2 in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
Also in the tournament: In the first match of the day, Arkansas swept McNeese State. CSU will play McNeese State (0-1) at 4 p.m. MT on Saturday, followed by the concluding game, featuring the Razorbacks (1-1) and Blue Raiders (0-1). Middle Tennessee State and McNeese State will not play.
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