FORT COLLINS, Colo.--Colorado State went head to head with one of the nation's best Saturday, falling in five tight sets to No. 2 UCLA in front of 5,641 fans at Moby Arena (20-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-13, 10-15). The attendance figure was the fourth-largest in program history.
"We could have won, so we have to take the good things from this and figure out how to not give up long point runs," Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. "We grow from this kind of match, but it stings because I think we could have won."
CSU (7-4) jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the opening set, and led 8-2 when UCLA (8-1) burned its first timeout. The Rams, which are receiving votes, took the next point, but UCLA bounced back with a 4-0 run, eventually tying the score at 11-11 and taking its first lead, 12-11. There was little separation between the two teams from there on. A Kelsey Snider kill made the score 20-19 UCLA, but the Bruins took five of the next six to win the set, 25-20.
The Rams bounced back in Set 2, in what Hilbert called one of the best sets he's ever seen one of his teams play.
"We are playing the No. 2 team in the nation, who won the national championship last year with almost the same team as they have right now, and in Set 2, we hit .349 and they hit. 300, and we win the set, 25-22. That's as high a level of a set that we have played probably since I have coached here. It was played because we have players who were aggressive, but didn't make mistakes. That might have been Kelsey Snider's best set of her career."
Knotted at 7-7, the fifth tie of the set already, CSU went on a 3-0 run to take a 10-7 lead. UCLA battled back to take its first and only lead of the set, at 21-20, forcing a CSU timeout. The Rams were able to side out on a Megan Moenoa service error and took the lead on a Snider kill. After a UCLA timeout, CSU got two more points and three of the final four to win the set, 25-22. Snider finished the set with six kills on .455 hitting.
CSU was held steady with UCLA in the third set, but fell behind late and was always a step behind, dropping it 25-21. That set up the monumental fourth set, in which the Rams were completely dominant from start to finish, winning 25-13. It was the fewest points scored in set by UCLA all season.
A 2-0 lead spread to a 6-2 advantage. The Bruins called timeout trailing 9-4, and again down 19-9. The Rams never let off the gas, leading by as many as 12 in the set.
CSU began the deciding fifth set as strong as it could have hoped for, taking the first three points on an Adrianna Culbert kill and two UCLA errors. Leading 6-3, however, UCLA took three points in a row, and then after a CSU timeout got the next point to take its first lead of the set, 7-6. The Rams knotted the score at 7-7, and led 8-7 as the teams switched sides, but leading 10-9 after a kill by Brieon Paige, UCLA went on a 6-0 run to seal the match.
"After playing the national champions and being so close to winning that match, I think that's a lot of motivation for conference, for practice, for every single day, knowing that we have potential to win the national championship this year," Dana Cranston said. "If we push ourselves every single day, and play like that every single night, then we are right up there. We've just got to execute it when it counts."
The Bruins outhit the Rams .219-.188, but the big difference was blocking. The Rams, which rank No. 5 nationally in blocks per set, were outblocked 18.0-7.0. The Bruins entered the week third nationally in blocks per set.
"I'm surprised we got outblocked by that much," Hilbert said. "We had less hitting errors than they did, and played a pretty clean game as attackers, but we got blocked 18 times."
Snider led all players with a career-high 15 kills. Cranston had 13 kills, while Megan Plourde and Culbert had nine apiece. Izzy Gaulia had a season-high 25 digs while Deedra Foss had 46 assists. UCLA's Tabi Love had 24 kills on .310 hitting, including seven on .700 hitting in the first set. Zoe Nightingale led all players with seven blocks.
The loss snaps CSU's four-match winning streak and 16-match winning streak at home. UCLA's No. 2 ranking was the highest-ranked team to come to Moby Arena since 1993, when No. 1 BYU played CSU. It also marks the first time since 1988 that the defending national champion has played at Moby Arena (Hawai'i in 1988).
"I don't think we're disappointed in how we played," Foss said. "We fought a good game. We all wanted to win--we wish we would have won--but overall, we all think we fought well and played hard against one of the best teams in the country. We had a lot of pride, heart and passion. It was a tough loss, but we did learn from it."
The Rams will try to bounce back on Thursday with their first conference match of the season. CSU will travel to Albuquerque, N.M. for a tilt with the Lobos.
"I thought if we finished non-conference play 6-5 we would still be a good team," Hilbert said.
Added Cranston: "This is the most prepared I've felt in all of my years here. We've played really, really good teams, and the whole spectrum of teams, too, which is good because we see some of that in our conference also. I feel really prepared."